An Interview with Brandon Wells

1If you’re anything like me, you like to hear from people in ministry who have been around the block a few times. People who have ridden the ministry roller coaster ups-and-downs, weathered the storms, been through the ringer, and have come out on the other side more seasoned, experienced, and faithful.

Brandon Wells is one of those people.

Brandon is the worship pastor at Spanish River Church in Boca Raton, Florida. And while I have never met Brandon face-to-face, we’ve become friends and I’ve been grateful for his model of pastoral faithfulness from afar.

I asked Brandon a few questions about himself and about worship leading, and I hope you enjoy our brief discussion.

Jamie Brown: Tell us a little about yourself and your family. 

Brandon Wells: I’m a husband to Nicole and a dad of three daughters, Molly 13, Ava 11 and Claire 9 (I think I got their ages right). We’ve been married 15 years, almost 16 now, and serving in the church since before we were married. I have a distinct memory of every single one of my daughters swinging in a baby seat on Sunday morning while the musicians rehearsed for church. Now, I make sure to buy them 50 munchkins from Dunkin Donuts on the mornings my wife sings to pacify them while they run wild through the empty sanctuary. All of this speaks more to their service than mine. They’ve been there with me the whole way. I couldn’t have better ministry and life partners than I do in each of them.

JB: How long have you served at Spanish River Church? What is your position there?

BW: This November will mark my 5th year serving as the Worship Pastor of Spanish River Church.

JB: How long have you been leading worship? 

BW: Like a lot of folks, I started leading worship when someone in my small church found out I played guitar. At the time, I only knew a few Grateful Dead tunes by heart. I was a new Christian and wasn’t familiar with the music of Larnelle Harris or Third Day or Rich Mullins. So, I got my start leading for the student ministry back in 1997. Since that time, I’ve managed to learn a few more chords on the guitar and can almost sing myself out of a paper bag (on a good day). All my training has been on the job in real time. Not always the best scenario but it’s how things shook out for me in the providence of God. Spanish River is the 5th church that I’ve served in a full time capacity. And I’ll stop there because it’s the end of August and I need to start planning the Christmas Eve services.

JB:  What are the one or two biggest lessons you’ve learned about worship leading?

BW: Lesson 1: On Sunday, my job is not to get people to worship. They’re already worshiping. They’ve been worshipping all week. My role as a leader in worship is to incentivize them through a thoughtfully crafted service that their Creator and Redeemer is more worthy of their worship than any other thing.

Lesson 2: Worship has to be a formational practice whereby my heart is enlarged for God and for people. If it fails to accomplish that in my life then true worship probably hasn’t happened.

JBIn addition to serving in a church, you also work in the world of coffee. Can you tell us about this journey?

BW: I might have as much to say about this as worship but I’ll spare readers any needless detail.

For context, it’s important to know that coffee is a beverage that I’ve loved for a really long time. I’ve always been “that guy” who brings his own beans to the brunch, along with his grinder and scale and scoop. This love affair with coffee took an interesting turn about 4 years ago, when I read Tim Keller’s book Every Good Endeavor. I started to see vocation differently, mainly, as an extension of who I am, what I love and what I feel compelled to share with the world in which I live.

So, together with my wife, I started a coffee roasting company called Wells Coffee Company. One day in a conversation with dear friends, the hope of our newly minted business venture came together in the simple phrase, Drink Deeply, which we believe epitomizes what we want to see happen around the coffees we roast. Since that time I’ve discovered that one of my favorite hymn texts from Marva Dawn, set to the tune of Come Thou Fount, says “From the waters of God’s mercy, we drink deeply are made whole.” We think coffee, unlike any other beverage, is an elixir for just this experience of wholeness and so we couldn’t be more thrilled to leverage this gift from God for the good of more people.

JB: What is your prayer each time you step on stage to lead worship?

BW: Father God, renew, revive and restore all whom you gather in this place (including me) for your name’s sake and your glory, forever. Amen.

Brandon isn’t on Twitter, and I like that about him. UPDATE: You can follow Brandon on Twitter @wellscoffees

And you can buy Wells Coffee here.

Thanks, Brandon!

A New Word: Exaltatation

1Yesterday at the end of our 11:15am service, when communion was wrapping up, I made up a word. It’s a good one, and I think we should all add it to our worship vocabulary.

It came out when I was encouraging the congregation to offer words/prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God. And in my mental search for the word “exaltation” (which is indeed an actual word), I was faced with all of the different options:

1. Exalt. 2. Exalting. 3. Exalted. 4. Exaltation. 5. ExxonMobil.

And instead of using any of those existing options, I chose to make up a new one.

So something like this came out of my mouth: “Let’s offer our exaltatation to the Lord”.

That extra syllable – the addition of the “at” that don’t really need to be there – really makes that word pop in a new way. To use a classical music term: it adds umph. Or oomph if you’re from the south. In other words, the extra “at” is where it’s at.

Exaltatation. It’s harder to say, harder to spell, and harder to understand, but it’s got pizzaz written all over it. Or maybe pizza written all over it. “Make that one extra large pizza with pizzaz, please, with some exaltatation on the side.”

If I had just used the already existing word, “exaltation”, things would have gone just fine. But that extra syllable, resulting in the invention of a new word, kicked things in a different gear. I recommend you use this new word as soon as you can.

You’re welcome. Happy exaltatating.

Lord I Need You… Really I Do

1This morning I led two songs of worship at our staff meeting. About 40 of us gathered in a circle, and after we read Psalm 135 responsively, I launched into “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. The staff here loves to sing, and the song went well, with a few repeats thrown in here and there as it felt appropriate. That song ended and I transitioned into “Lord, I Need You”.

Everything was going fine. Good lyrics, good keys, the people were singing, I was relaxed, and there weren’t any issues.

One small problem. I forgot that “Lord, I Need You” is in 4/4, not 3/4. We sang a few lines of it in the wrong time signature and everything felt off. Really off. I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing wrong. So, I stopped. I said something like “so, I think I just forgot how this song goes…” Someone helpfully pointed out that I “left out an extra beat”. We laughed about it, we started over, and everything was fine. I felt silly, a bit embarrassed, and honestly, I felt humbled.

I had put together a fine 2-song set for an early morning staff meeting. I was doing a good job. But then I made a silly rookie mistake. And ironically, it was on a song titled “Lord, I Need You”.

So, two lessons:

1. Mistakes happen. Sometimes you can cover them up. But sometimes you can’t, so own up to them, laugh about them, and move on.

2. God has a sense of humor. I will never sing “Lord, I Need You” the same way. Now I’ll really mean those words!

Be careful out there, worship leaders. God is waiting just around the corner to teach you new lessons and keep you humble.

Keep Trucking

1Yesterday morning at our 11:00am service we were halfway through our opening block of songs when I heard a crazy noise coming out of the speakers that seemed to make the whole room jump. No, it wasn’t my drummer deciding to let loose. It was the sound board deciding to go nuts for a second. Before deciding to do it again. At which point the engineer made the decision to mute everything. And restart the board.

So for 45 seconds yesterday we were smack dab in the middle of a song and the sound system was pretty much completely off. The interesting thing was that the band had no idea that the system was totally off for 45 seconds because our in-ear monitors were working just fine. (Chalk this one up as one major reason why in-ears might detrimentally effect your worship leading: because you can’t hear what they hear).

But I knew something had happened. I had heard the crazy noise and I had seen the people jump, and then I noticed that they seemed more reserved for the rest of the set. It would have been nice to know that they weren’t really hearing anything, but since I was blissfully unaware, I kept on trucking.

And the congregation kept trucking too. They were dealing with an enormous distraction, so of course they pulled back a bit, but they kept on singing. The projector hadn’t shut down, so the lyrics were still up. And they knew the song. And the band was playing and singing. So, slowly the sound system came back on, and slowly the engineer started fading up the channels hoping that the board would cooperate. And when I sat down I found out what had happened.

What did I learn?

1. In-ear monitors are great, but they really do cut you off from the congregation.
2. Unless there’s some sort of emergency, or a total loss of power, it’s better to keep on trucking than screech everything to a halt.
3. This kind of thing is humbling. It reminds you that you can’t control everything.
4. When the sound system dies, it’s probably best to keep people singing. If I had tried to stop the song and say something, it would have been hard for them to hear what I was saying. Plus, what would I have said?
5. Congregations look for cues from the people on stage. If you keep your cool, then they will too.

Selah (Oh No. I Just Broke a String!)

1Here’s a story (and audio clip) about how I broke a string in front of 1,400 people while recording a live CD and used a joke I stole from a worship leader’s Facebook group to salvage what could have been a really awkward moment.

First, the background:

About a year ago I joined a Facebook group called “Liturgy Fellowship“. It’s a group where a bunch of worship leaders who lead in contexts where some sort of liturgical structure is employed and/or valued share ideas, ask questions, and stay in touch. I’m not terribly active in the group, but I do check in from time to time since I’m curious about what other worship leaders are up to and dealing with.

A few weeks ago, a worship leader in the group shared that he had broken a string and used a joke Reggie Kidd had shared that the word “Selah” in the Psalms actually meant “ah shucks, I broke another string”. Reggie Kidd commented that the joke actually came from Eugene Peterson in his book Answering God where he wonders if “Selah” was actually a cuss word David used when he broke a string.

I thought this was really funny. So I made a mental note to tuck this little joke away in case I ever needed it in the future.

So, finally, back to the live recording in front of 1,400 people when I broke a string used the joke.

Last weekend we devoted our worship services to an extended time of worship and celebration of God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, after a year of considerable upheaval and change for our church. We recorded a live album last year before leaving our campus of over 275 years, and this year we wanted to capture our congregation continuing to proclaim God’s faithfulness and the power of the Gospel. (This is why this blog has been so quiet for a while, by the way).

On Thursday, the first day of our rehearsals, I put new strings on my guitar. I used those strings during all-day rehearsals on Friday and Saturday, and a recording on Saturday evening. That’s a lot of play.

So, on Sunday morning before our big combined service with everyone in one room, I wondered whether I should put new strings on. Nah, I thought, I’ll be OK.

Not so much.

We opened with three songs. A call to worship, Matt Redman’s “How Great is Your Faithfulness”, and “Crown Him with Many Crowns”. During the last few measures of “Crown Him…” I felt the dreaded pop. This wasn’t good. We still had about 12 more songs to get through. Oh. No.

Thankfully, after “Crown Him”, our pastor, John Yates, was supposed to come up and welcome people, pray, and lead us the prayer for purity. I thought that if I moved at lightening speed, I could replace the E string in that time. I wish.

So I rushed over to my case. No strings. I rushed back to where I thought they could be. Not there. Asked one of the electric guitarists if he had any. He said no. I run back to my case. I find them. I get back to my guitar just as the prayer for purity is ending and my pastor is walking back to his seat.

Then I remember. The Facebook group. The Selah joke. I can’t quite remember how it’s supposed to go. But I use it. I try to tell it as well as I can. Please work. Help me Lord.

And it works. They laugh. So I ask John to come back up and “share something from his heart” for 2 minutes. He plays along. People laugh. And I change my string faster than I’ve ever changed a string in my entire life.

Then we keep on going and record 12 more songs.

So, thanks to my friends on the Facebook group for sharing that excellent joke. Thank you, Lord, for in your providence pointing me to that joke weeks before I’d need it because you knew I’d need it. And thanks to my congregation for laughing.

I will likely use this joke again. And you should too. It’s a good one.

Here’s how it sounded, from the last sentence or so of the prayer for purity, during which I was running around on stage like a mad man.