Practical Experiences to Help Young Worship Leaders Grow

No worship leader ever stops growing. If they do, they’re in trouble. There’s always more to learn, more to understand, and more experiences to have. Likewise, no worship leader becomes “seasoned” overnight. If they expect to, they’re in trouble.

But if you’re a young worship leader and just starting out, and you want to grow as a worship leader, there are some crucially important experiences you have to have.

Here’s a list of 13 of them, in no particular order of importance. They’re all important.

1. Retreats
Lead worship for 3 or 4 retreats and you’ll realize that they require an incredible amount of planning, coordination, logistics arranging, and flexibility, and leave you utterly exhausted. You need to get good at leading worship on retreats and remember to bring your own pillow.

2. Weekly leadership
It’s one thing to lead worship on an occasional basis, and this is a good place to start. But the next step is finding an opportunity to lead a regular congregation on a regular basis with a regular worship team of some sort. It’s a roller coaster of ups and downs that you need to learn how to ride. Sometimes you’ll feel sick, but it’s actually a lot of fun.

3. Weddings and funerals
There are no do-overs when it comes to weddings and funerals. These are profoundly emotional, high-stakes, memorable, photographed, and meaningful services. You will mess up at them for sure, but you better make sure they’re small mess ups or there will be people who remember you for the rest of their lives (and not in a good way).

5. Fill-in
Serving as a guest-worship leader for a church that isn’t yours, with musicians you’re unaccustomed to working with, and using a repertoire you haven’t built is disorienting and a lot of work. Learn how to listen to what they need, serve them with humility, and come back to your home church more grateful for the blessings you don’t appreciate like that nice gentleman who always makes fun of your pants.

6. Small group
It requires much more sensitivity and pastoral skill to lead worship for 10 people than it does for 1,000. Don’t underestimate the life-long difference that leading worship in someone’s living room can make to your worship leading skills, especially when you’re interrupted by a screaming baby.

7. Big group
You can get away with things in a small group that you can’t get away with in front of a big group (200 or more people). Leading worship for a large number of people requires you to muster up a level of planning, preparation, and leadership authority that will seem impossible at first but will begin to feel natural the more you do it.

8. Christmas Eve and Easter
Mature worship leaders learn, through years of trial and error, how best to carry the burden of planning music for the two biggest-deal services of the year, in a way that doesn’t totally consume their lives (or their volunteers’), provides their congregation with a genuine encounter with God, and includes everyone’s favorite songs and ensures no complaints (I’m joking).

9. On-the-side services
Occasional healing services, vow renewals, baby dedications, church staff meetings, Veterans’ Day services, and any other service that requires a time of singing that isn’t on Sunday morning, will cause you think outside the box and factor in a whole different slew of things while planning a time of worship that will engage people.

10. Kids
When adults aren’t engaged in worship they’ll stand there like a robot. When kids aren’t engaged in worship they’ll get really loud and ask their mom for a snack or jump on their friend’s back and try to tackle him. Learning how to lead kids in worship will prepare you for the grumpiest of all adults.

11. Elderly
The older generation isn’t looking to be impressed. They would like to actually be able to sing along with you, hopefully something true, meaningful, and familiar.

12. Hostile
My experience as a teenager leading worship for a congregation in which one-half of the room would stand while the other half would remain seated with their arms folded, while staring at me angrily, was the most valuable worship leading experience I ever had. Leading worship for hostile groups will force you to grow in dependence on God, and confidence in who he’s gifted you to be.

13. Meetings
This has nothing to do with playing an instrument or singing. It has to do with the fact that if you’re a worship leader, you need to learn how to run a good meeting. Have an agenda, move things along, get results, and adjourn it before it goes too long and people start throwing things. This will serve you for the rest of your life, and help you run good rehearsals as well.

Simple Musical Settings of the Communion Liturgy

This year for Advent at my church we’re going to be singing these new settings of the communion liturgy that I wrote. Since Advent is a short season, there’s not much time to teach/learn new melodies for familiar liturgy, so I went with a simple melody that can hopefully be picked up pretty quickly. In many spots it’s just a repeated 1-2-3-4-5 musical scale.

Here’s a video showing how they go.

And here are the chord charts and lead sheets.

Nerdy liturgical note: There are two versions of the “memorial acclamation” in that video and in the PDF of chord charts/lead sheets. The first one is “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again”. In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, that’s used in “prayer A”. The second one, “We remember His death, we proclaim His resurrection, we await His coming in glory” is used in prayer B, often used in seasons like Lent or Advent and that’s the one we’ll be singing at my church for the next four Sundays.

Three Signs You’re Leading Rehearsals Well

Effective rehearsals have many characteristics. They have a clear leader, they start and end on time, they’re organized, they’re light-hearted, they’re focused and efficient, they zero in on what’s not working, they don’t waste time on over-rehearsing what’s working fine, and the people who attend them are expected, encouraged, and equipped to be prepared for them and to work on their own parts on their own time.

These kinds of rehearsals are an art, not a science. It takes time to learn your own style, and for your team to follow you. Here are three signs you’re leading rehearsals well:

They end early every once in a while
Just because your rehearsal says it goes until 9:30pm doesn’t mean it has to. Or just because you rehearse before the first service doesn’t mean you have to rehearse right up until the first service. If you’re managing time well, if your team is prepared well, and if you don’t waste energy on things that could be skipped, then you’ll find yourself ending rehearsal early from time to time. Even ending just five minutes early sometimes sends a message to your team that you’re confident in them. And it means that the next rehearsal when you use up the whole time, they’ll know you really needed to.

There’s laughter
Everyone loves to laugh. Rehearsals that have moments of laughter, perhaps when you’re poking fun at yourself (or the drummer), or making a dumb joke, are rehearsals that people want to come back to. Musicians can be prone to take themselves way too seriously. Keep looking for those lighthearted moments when people can just relax and laugh. They’ll sit up straighter when you ask them to focus again when rehearsal gets back on track.

The first service doesn’t feel like rehearsal
At my church, I rehearse our instrumentalists from 7:30am – 8:15am (give or take) every Sunday. Then we have a 9:00am and 11:15am service. I know I’ve led a good rehearsal when our 9:00am service doesn’t feel like a rehearsal. We feel ready, relaxed, and confident. But if that 9:00am service has lots of missed cues or rough transitions, then I know I could have done a better job. When your first service starts, and your team is ready to go, then you know you’ve led a good rehearsal.

Perhaps the simplest way to know whether or not your rehearsals are working, is whether or not you and your team look forward to them. People should actually want to come to rehearsals. They know they’ll be stretched, encouraged, and noticed. They know you’ll lead them well. They know they’ll be making a contribution. And they know you’ll honor their sacrifice of time. Who wouldn’t want to come back to that kind of rehearsal?

Recommended Anthems for Choirs and Bands

IMG_0645Over the last few years, since arriving at my church in the summer of 2014, I’ve been enjoying leading worship every Sunday morning alongside a wonderful choir whose legacy stretches back many decades. My colleague Andrew Cote and I have been committed to a true partnership and convergence of musical styles, old and new, traditional and modern, choir and band, all together in one unified expression.

To that end, we’ve been on the lookout for anthems that work well for modern choirs and bands to present together. We still use a significant amount of choir-only anthems, dating back several centuries, but we also use a significant amount of anthems designed for choir and band. Below is a long list of those kinds of anthems that we’ve enjoyed using once or twice, or are thinking about using in the future.

First up are anthems/arrangements by my good friend Joshua Spacht.

Crown Him with Many Crowns (purchase here)

Nicely done and energetic arrangement of this hymn with an added chorus.

O How Good it Is (purchase here)
A fun arrangement of this Townend/Getty modern hymn with an Irish flair.

Behold the Lamb of God (purchase here)
A beautiful anthemic ballad focused on the cross. We used this on Palm Sunday in 2018.

The Cross of Christ Shall Stand (purchase here)
Another great anthem focused on the cross. We used this on Palm Sunday in 2017.

All the People Said Amen (purchase here)
A fun call to worship song that the congregation can join in on when the chorus comes.

Nkosi Jesu (purchase here)
This one is really fun. And really hard. A great anthem (in Zulu) for adult choirs, kids choir, and percussion. Our church loved this one.

In the Beginning (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel II project)
This is one my favorite anthems of all time. A masterpiece.

O Come Medley (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)
Beautiful medley of Advent hymns.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)

A hauntingly beautiful new musical setting of this great Christmas text.

Little Town (purchase here, as part of Joshua Spacht’s Fantasia Noel project)
Only Joshua Spacht could take this text and put it to this kind of musical arrangement. It works! We’re doing this on Christmas Eve this year.

Next up are anthems from a variety of authors, with arrangements by my friend Trey Tanner at Mt. Paran Church of God in Atlanta. If you’d like to explore purchasing any of these arrangements/orchestrations by Trey, let me know in the comments and I’ll connect you with him.

Chain Breaker

Great song, perfect with a choir, and will definitely engage your congregation.

Under the Shadow
Our church loves this one. Great for a soloist on the verses and choir on the chorus.
Let Everything that Has Breath
Oh my goodness this anthem is ridiculous. 

We Cannot Be Silent
This one is super fun.

Matthew 28
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it. We did this on Easter in 2017 and I still get comments about it. Really powerful when/if you can pull it off.

God, Great God

Fun call to worship or mid-service anthem for choir and band.

Psalm 63
This is Trey’s arrangement of this Prestonwood anthem, and I love it.

The following anthems were arranged by Bradley Knight.

Jesus Brought Me Out (i.e. Now I’m On My Way) (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
This is such a great, fun, joy-filled anthem.

Psalm 34 (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
We haven’t used this yet, but I’ve heard many churches already incorporating it. Very well done.

Psalm 23 (purchase here, as part of Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s “I Am Reminded Project. When/if it becomes available as a stand-alone piece, I’ll update the post)
Another great setting of a Psalm for band a choir. Not easy! We haven’t used it yet, but I love it.

He Looked Beyond My Fault and Saw My Need (purchase here)
Bradley Knight outdoes himself on this one. 

Praise His Holy Name (purchase here)
Our choir has grabbed onto this anthem well, and with piano/organ accompaniment, it really soars towards the end. 

Thou Oh Lord (purchase here)
This is another one of my favorites. Our people have loved it.

Sold Out (purchase here)
Super fun gospel anthem.

The Cross Medley (purchase here)
We haven’t used this one at my church yet, but I love this medley of cross-centered hymns. Would be great for Holy Week and/or Good Friday.

Holy (Sanctus) (purchase here)
Another one we haven’t used, but it’s an anthem that shows how it’s possible to have a choir sound like a choir, and a band sound like a band, and to have it work when you put those pieces together.

You Are Worthy (purchase here)
We haven’t used this one yet – and it will be a fun challenge when we do – but I love this convergence of choir and band, with a great text!

We’ve also enjoyed these anthems out of Prestonwood Church in Plano, Texas:

Let the Redeemed (purchase here)

All the Praise (available for purchase as part of Prestonwood’s “Horizon” project. If/when this song becomes available as an individual purchase, I’ll update the post)

Psalm 103 (also available for purchase as part of Prestonwood’s “Horizon” project. If/when this song becomes available as an individual purchase, I’ll update the post)

And finally, here are anthems from various sources that we’re either planning on using in the coming year, or have used and enjoyed.

Is He Worthy (purchase here – I recommend the Brentwood Benson arrangement)
I’ve been listening to Andrew Peterson for his whole career – and I think this is his best song yet. Absolutely stunning. We will use this on the fourth Sunday of Advent this year.

I Will Bless the Lord (purchase here – I was pleaded with the PraiseCharts arrangement
A great call to worship. Easy for choir, fun for band, and a great way to start a service.

How Excellent (to purchase this Bradley Knight arrangement, I recommend going to www.davidbscott.com and using the “contact us” link. That’s what we did!)
I saved one of the best for last. This is an absolutely amazing anthem for choir and band, and I love the spoken word portions at the end as well. 

Jesus Does the Impossible

A few Sundays ago I preached on Mark 10:17-31 at my church’s evening service. This is the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus with the all-important question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”.

In my sermon, I suggested four lessons Jesus teaches us about entrance into his Kingdom in response to that question, and in the ensuing conversation with his disciples. He teaches us that we can’t do enough, that we can’t have other idols, that we can’t lose by sacrificing, and that Jesus does the impossible.

You can hear it here:

Remembering and Rejoicing

In the second chapter of Ephesians, Paul makes a really, really, really important point.

Twice.

In the first half of the chapter, he paints a dire picture of the gravity of our condition outside of Christ with four stunning words: “And you were dead” (Ephesians 2:1). After explaining a bit more of what “dead” means, he then draws our attention to the glory of our Savior with two history-changing words: “But God” (Ephesians 2:4). He then goes on to proclaim just how glorious Jesus is.

In the second half of the chapter, Paul again paints a dire picture of the gravity of our condition in verses 11-12. He says “Therefore remember that formerly you were separate… you were excluded… you were foreigners… and you were without hope and without God in the world.”

And then, just like earlier in the chapter, he draws out attention to the glories of Jesus beginning with two words: “But now” (Ephesians 2:13).

Remember… But God!

Remember… But now.

Notice the pattern here?

Remember the gravity of your condition. And rejoice in the glories of your Savior.

A heart that is not warmed to worship Jesus is a heart that has been made cold by forgetfulness. There is a direct correlation between a lack of worship and a lack of remembering.

Think about the day – in the future – long, long in the future – when the Washington Redskins – someday – win the super bowl. Why will we so fervently celebrate their decisive victory over the Dallas Cowboys? Because we know the gravity of their condition.

I need to hear this reminder every day. My official job title at my church is “Director of Worship and Arts”. I am literally paid to worship Jesus. But I forget. And when I forget the gravity, I’m not captivated by God’s grace

And David got this. David knew this reality. That’s why David wrote in Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and FORGET NOT all his benefits.” He had to literally tell his own soul: “Don’t forget!” He forgives all your iniquity. He heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the pit.

Don’t forget that he redeemed your life from the pit. Look back at the pit – then look up to Jesus – and rejoice.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

We can’t rejoice without first remembering. When we remember the gravity of our condition, we are all the more ready to rejoice in the glories of our Savior.

Hosanna (For Two Percussionists)

Yesterday morning at my church, our prelude was an instrumental piece entitled “Hosanna (For Two Percussionists)”. My colleague Andrew Cote composed this piece for Palm Sunday this past March, and is one of the guys playing the song in the video below. The other guy is Joseph Connell – the drummer at my church for the last 25 years! I love these guys.

Andrew describes the piece this way:

When I began working for Truro Anglican Church in 2016, I began a tradition of writing a percussion duet for myself and our percussionist, Joseph Connell as a call to worship for our Palm Sunday services. This piece is an attempt to capture the energy of the crowd welcoming Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.

Here’s a rough iPhone video of the song from yesterday.

You can purchase the arrangement here.