Beautiful Baby Boy

Eight years ago, just a couple of months after our first daughter was born, I found myself seeing and reflecting upon the incarnation of Jesus Christ with fresh eyes. As a first-time dad I was not prepared for the profound sweetness, tenderness, and innocence of a little baby. I had an overwhelming love and affection for this beautiful, soft, little girl.

It made me think how Mary must have felt when she cradled baby Jesus in her arms. And felt his warm little breaths on her arm as he slept, or heard his little cries when he was hungry, or stroked his smooth little chest. One day that beautiful baby boy would be nailed to a tree as the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. One day his soft little lips would speak forgiveness and proclaim good news. One day those little arms would embrace the sinner.

So I wrote the song “Beautiful Baby Boy” as a reflection on the very real incarnation of Jesus into the very real form of a beautiful, precious, tender baby boy. And I wrote it as a reminder that he came for a purpose, and that his destiny even from the time he laid in a manger, was to be a crucified and risen Savior.

You can listen to the song here (special thanks to Joshua Spacht for the string orchestrations):

Click here to download the mp3 from iTunes.
Click here to download the free chord chart.
Click here to download the free lead sheet (thanks, Zach Sprowls).
And here are the lyrics:

Beautiful Baby Boy

His tiny little hands will be nailed to a tree
His precious little feet will be pierced through for me
And His soft little lips will bless and forgive
Oh beautiful baby boy

His tiny little chest will be whipped and flogged
His precious little head will be stained with his blood
And His soft little cry will beg for my life
Oh beautiful baby boy

Oh beautiful baby boy. Oh holy Lamb of God
Away in a manger lies our perfect sacrifice
Oh beautiful baby boy

His tiny little eyes will seek out the poor
His precious little arms will welcome the whore
And His soft pudgy face is the image of grace
Oh beautiful baby boy

And we were dead in our sins, and we were lost on our own
And we were children of wrath, and we were all without hope
But God rich in mercy, but God great in love
But God full of kindness gave us His only Son

Words and music: Jamie Brown. © 2011 Worthily Magnify Music.  All rights reserved. CCLI song # 6026925

Red Flags

Adding members to a worship team, a choir, or really any volunteer team is one of the most important and consequential jobs of a worship leader. It requires patience (when no one is stepping forward), discernment (whether or not someone is gifted), wisdom (is this person suited for a leadership position in the church?), and leadership (am I building a team or expecting it to fall into place?)

I have made some wise decisions regarding whom to add to the worship team, and I have made some not-so-wise decisions. I’ve learned that there are some things to look out for (i.e. red flags) when considering whether or not someone should be asked to join the worship team.

Here are some red flags to be looking for (in no particular order of importance):

They speak bitterly about former churches
You will not break their cycle of joining a church, being on the worship team, and then leaving and trashing that church to the next church. Instead, you will probably end up joining the club.

They “need” to be on the worship team
Be wary of someone who approaches you about joining the worship team after only weeks at the church, someone who seems overly eager to sing or play an instrument on the team, or someone who is putting pressure on you. Instead of looking for a place to serve, they are looking for a source of self-validation. They really “need” to be up front. Watch out.

They really just want to play music and leave the worship leading to you
I tell my team quite often that I am not looking to build a team of back-up instrumentalists and singers. I am looking to build a team of worship leaders. If I’m auditioning someone and they just seem to be interested in playing music and unable to articulate a passion for helping people encounter God in worship, I would be hesitant to add them right away.

They aren’t committed to the church
Before someone is in a position of leadership at a church, they need to be committed to that church. Set a bar of expectations for the members of your worship team. You won’t regret it.

They say something like “I worship most easily when I’m leading worship”
This is usually code for “when I’m not up front I’m uncomfortable because I’d rather be up front”. People who really want to be up front maybe shouldn’t be up front as much as they’d like, for their own good. (See my post from a very long time ago: “Do You Worship When You’re Not ‘Leading Worship’?”)

They are over-confident
I once had a woman come up to me after a service and say “I would love to join you on the worship team some time. I used to sing many years ago. Feel free to call on me anytime. I don’t need to audition or anything like that. I’d be fine.” You might want to encourage that audition.

They are already over-committed
I’ll always ask a potential worship team member “do you have space in your life for another commitment?” Then I’ll tell them what is expected of worship team members. If they seem excited about making this commitment and able to fulfill it, that’s an encouraging sign. If they seem burned-out just thinking about it, that’s a red flag.

They don’t enthusiastically participate in singing from the pews
Look for them on a Sunday morning when they’re in the pews. Imagine they’re the one leading worship and you’re the one looking at them on a platform. Whatever message they’re sending in the pews will be greatly magnified on stage.

They take it lightly
I remind my team quite frequently that being on the worship team means being in a position of leadership. Make sure that any person you add to your worship team feels that weight and takes it seriously.

Add to your team slowly, intentionally, and wisely. Look for red flags and don’t just hope they’ll disappear. They hardly ever do – and they’re a whole lot harder to handle once you’ve already taken the plunge.

Rejecting The Weekly Verdict

1It’s a dangerous situation for worship leaders. Every day of their week leads up and builds up to Sunday, the day of all days, the day when they stand before their congregations and, in the course of a few hours, either succeed at their job (in which case they feel like a success) or fail at their job (in which case they feel like a failure), or do OK at our job (in which case they feel just OK). It’s what I call the weekly verdict.

Depending on how a combined total of anywhere from 25 – 100 minutes go, worship leaders head home on Sunday afternoons and begin a new week on Monday morning with a fresh report hot off the presses on whether or not they should feel good about themselves.

Obviously, there are a few problems with this:

1. Worship leaders who derive their sense of self-worth or vocational-aptitude from how one service goes are forgetting that their standing before God has been secured by Christ and can’t be improved upon by an awesome set-list or downgraded by a dud.

2. Worship leaders who feel like a success after a successful service set themselves up for a painful bursted bubble the very next week when, due to whatever many factors are at work, things don’t go so well. They also become arrogant.

3. Worship leaders who feel like a failure after a service that falls flat are allowing a gnawing neediness and insatiable appetite to creep up in their souls that becomes hungry for applause and accolades, and makes them no fun for their families to be around after church.

4. Worship leaders who feel “just OK’ after a ho-hum service forget that real-life worship leading (the kind that gets up and gets to church and gets things ready and gets rehearsed and so on…) is much more frequently “ho-hum” than it is awesome. A more provocative way to phrase it would be that worship leading is more of a long-term commitment than a one-night stand.

So what’s the solution for worship leaders who feel this weekly build-up and anxiety to the weekly Sunday morning verdict on where they stand that particular week?

First, remember your core. You’re hidden in Christ. The roller-coaster of approval/applause/criticism/yawning/euphoria doesn’t rock the person who pursues a fundamental certitude of who they are in Christ.

Second, embrace your calling. Worship leaders are not called to be actors for the sake of a crowd’s acclaim. We are called to be servants for the glory of Jesus’ name.

Third, balance your weight. Just like an airplane can’t fly if all the weight is in front, a worship leader can’t be effective if all his/her weight is placed on Sunday morning. Your hours in the office, at the piano, praying over songs, attending meetings, tending to administrative duties, arranging music, scheduling volunteers, rehearsing, emails, appointments, etc., must be the counterweight to the time you stand on a platform.

Don’t allow Sunday mornings to become a weekly determiner of how to feel about yourself. Approach worship leading with a confidence and conviction founded in Jesus, and then regardless of a great response or a royal flop, you’ll be anchored to the unchanging verdict of the Gospel.

Jesus Isn’t Looking for Perfect Music (Or Musicians)

Several years ago I read the book Music Through the Eyes of Faith by Harold Best, and for me, it was one of those books that I couldn’t stop underlining, re-reading, and devouring.

In particular, I loved the point Harold made with respect to the ramifications of Jesus – as the perfect Son of God on earth – singing songs and hearing music written by sinners.

He wrote:

“Let’s concentrate on something that almost never comes to mind: the music that Jesus heard and made throughout his life – the music of the wedding feast, the dance, the street, and the synagogue. As it turns out, Jesus was not a composer but a carpenter. Thus he heard and used the music made by other, fallen creatures – the very ones he came to redeem.

The ramifications of this single fact are enormous. They assist in answering the questions as to whether music used by Christians can only be written by Christians and whether music written by non-Christians is somehow non-Christian. But for now, it is important to understand that even though we don’t know whether every piece of music Jesus used was written by people of faith, we can be sure that it was written by imperfect people, bound by the conditions of a fallen world and hampered by sinfulness and limitation.

So even though we do not know what musical perfection is, we do know that the perfect one could sing imperfect music created by fallen and imperfect people, while doing so completely to the glory of his heavenly Father.”
The Fall, Creativity, and Music Making, pgs. 18 and 19

Jesus sang imperfect music written by imperfect people when he walked the earth. This is good news for us!

So let’s not try to impress Jesus with our perfect music this Sunday. Let’s thank him for making our imperfect music and imperfect worship acceptable through his perfect sacrifice. What a Savior!

The Capital Equation

Several years ago at my previous church we devoted an entire Sunday morning to one big, combined worship service to record a worship album. We never did this sort of thing. We never combined our services, we never devoted an hour and a half to music, we hardly ever got that loud for that long, we never sing that many new songs in one service, and we never pushed the envelope that much in a two-hour period.

It went really well. It was a ton of fun, it was the middle of the summer, and it was the right thing for that one Sunday. But it was very, very different.

The week after this big extravaganza I was sitting in my pastor’s office debriefing the whole experience. He told me how much he enjoyed it, that he was excited for the new album, and that we had all done a good job. Then he asked me what I thought. I said how thrilled I was with it all, and how grateful I was that he let us do it.

Then I said: “I woke up on Monday morning and thought to myself ‘well, I just used up all my capital for the next year!'”.

He looked at me, smiled, and said: “you sure did.”

We were both happy with how well the whole thing had gone. But we both knew that we had pushed the congregation. And that if I was smart, I’d ease off the gas for a little bit.

Worship leaders must learn the capital equation. Which is: Build capital. Spend capital. Build back capital. Repeat as needed.

When all you do is spend, spend, spend capital, you’re operating out of a deficit. People don’t trust you, they’re worn out, and you’re not going to find them all that adventourous. Too many new songs. Too loud. Too much liturgy. Too many hymns. Too many electric guitars. Whatever it is. You’re spending too much, too soon, too often, and maybe too recklessly. Be smarter.

Likewise, when all you do is build, build, build capital and never take any risks or push people anywhere, then you’re wasting opportunities. Safe choices, same songs, no creativity, no one is upset with you, bored musicians, ho-hum services, and no lost sleep over a risky idea.

Do both. Spend capital! But once you’ve spent it, then ease off the gas and build it back. Feel it out. You’ll almost certainly lean too much in one direction before you realize it and then make a correction.

And that’s why regular conversations with your pastor are so important. So you can debrief, be honest with one another, and be receptive to his counsel about when he thinks you might be need to do some spending, or some building.

How We Communicate the Purpose and the Practicalities of a Choir Ministry On One Card

Over the last several years at my church, I’ve been enjoying leading worship alongside our great choir every Sunday. And as you’ll know from several previous posts on this blog, I’ve also been enjoying the challenges of helping steward and grow a choir in the face of daunting statistics of the decline of choirs across the mainline protestant world, especially not being a choir director myself. This past March I even hosted a day-long intensive on this subject in Atlanta.

For what it’s worth, I wanted to share the two-sided choir card that my colleague (and choir director) Andrew Cote and I have put together for our church that:

  • Explains the purpose and mission of our choir
  • Outlines the kind of rehearsal commitment for which we’re asking people to sign up
  • Summarizes some of the non-Sunday stuff in which the choir is involved

If you lead or help lead a choir at your church, perhaps this will be helpful, and/or perhaps you can share some of what/how you communicate these kinds of things.

How to “Sing Like Never Before”

Like millions of other people, I’ve enjoyed Matt Redman’s song “Ten Thousand Reasons” ever since he wrote it in 2011. I’ve sung it a lot, led it a lot, listened to it a lot, and been helped by it a lot.

But one of the lines in the chorus has kind of always bugged me.

“…Sing like never before, O my soul…”

Like, sing louder than I did last time? Or with more feeling? Or more genuinely? How can I – even after having sung this song something around 10,000 times – “sing like never before”? At some point, won’t I have reached the point of having sung like I can sing?

No. I can always sing like before. But… how?

I came across these two quotes recently from commentaries on Psalm 145 (one of the Psalms in which David talks about worshipping God every day, forever and ever, etc.) and they helped answer that question:

The first from Matthew Henry:

God is every day blessing us, doing well for us, there is therefore reason that we should be every day blessing him, speaking well of him.

And the second from John Calvin:

Since God is constant in extending mercies, it would be highly improper in us to faint in his praises. As he thus gives his people new ground for praising him, so he stimulates them to gratitude, and to exercise it throughout the whole course of their life.

So, in other words, God is always blessing us, always extending new mercies to us, always stimulating us to new gratitude, so we can always “sing like never before”.

Because since the last time I sang that song, God has shown me ten thousand new mercies, has blessed me in ways I’m not even aware of, and has been faithful to me with such constancy and love that would absolutely floor me if I knew the reality of it.

So, yes, whenever I sing Matt Redman’s well-known song, or really any song of praise for that matter, I can “sing like never before”, not necessarily louder or prettier or more impressively, but with reasons and causes and mercies that I hadn’t known before, for “ten thousand years and then forevermore”.