Thank You Gary

When my family moved to Fairfax, Virginia in September of 2000, I was a depressed, confused, and lonely high school boy. My dad had taken a job as one of the associate pastors at Truro Church, and our family packed up from the panhandle of Florida and came with him. Sitting in between me and my dad in the front of our moving truck was my brand new Taylor 410-CE acoustic guitar, a gift from my youth group just the night before, on my last night leading worship for them.

One of the first people I met at Truro was a man named Gary Jaskulski. He was the Director of Music and Arts and led a music program that was like none I had ever seen in my limited Episcopal (at that time) experience. After an opening hymn with organ, full choir, strings, brass, and timpani, they segued into the Gloria, still with the organ, full choir, and strings, but now with piano, guitars, drum set, and the pastor (now my bishop) playing his tambourine and shaking his hips. They actually attempted to do “blended” music, as in, do all kinds of styles of music in one service, and they actually pulled it off pretty well.

It wasn’t long until he cornered me after church and asked me to come by his office later in the week, with my shiny new Taylor, and audition. I wasn’t quite sure what to think – I was used to playing contemporary music with four or five chords, had never worn a choir robe in my life, and had never auditioned for anyone! A few days later I came by his office, we played and sang through a few songs together, and he asked me to play guitar on Sunday mornings. And I had to wear a choir robe.

So for several years I came every Sunday morning and played guitar at Truro Church under Gary’s leadership. It was just what I needed.

It was a place for me to grow and mature as a guitarist. Many Sundays he would put music in front of me with no guitar chords at all. Just a treble clef and a bass clef. I had to figure them out on my own. And many of these songs had more chords than I had ever seen in one song.

It was a place for me to grow in my love for more traditional forms of music. Up until coming to Truro, I might have sneered at what I thought was the irrelevancy of the organ. Now I got to sit under it every Sunday, hear Gary play it with amazing skill, and experience the grandeur of such a beautiful instrument.

It was a place for me to learn how to be comfortable with spontaneity. If Gary wanted me to take a verse of a song, he would just point at me about two measures before the verse started. I had to learn to watch him, to be ready, to be comfortable with making mistakes, and to rehearse just in case I got called on.

It was a place for me to experience multiple styles of music being employed in one service with excellence, humility, and joy. Gary was just as comfortable letting the organ soar on “Glory Be to Jesus” as he was playing gospel-style piano on “Soon and Very Soon”. He loved playing glissandos.

I had no idea when I first arrived at Truro and met Gary what a difference he would make to me as a worship leader and musician. I still try to emulate him on the piano. I’ll probably never come close. He was that good.

But after a year or two of playing under Gary’s leadership, I remember asking myself: “what is it that is so unique about how Gary leads?” I realized what it was. I never left a service thinking about how skilled an organist, pianist, or choir director Gary was. I left more aware of how great God is.

Today Gary stepped into the presence of that great God, after a long battle with cancer. His wife Merillee, son Christian, and daughter Catherine were by his side as he breathed his last breath.

I’m confident that there are pipe organs and pianos in heaven that we cannot even begin to imagine. It won’t be long until Gary has found one of them and is playing and singing “Glory Be to Jesus” with the saints and the angels joining in and falling on their faces in worship.

Gary, I thank God for you, your life, your ministry, and your contagious passion for his glory. Now you get to experience that glory in all its fullness. Enjoy your new robe.

Music Through the Eyes of Faith – Pt. 3

Are you the kind of musician who will only listen to, play, and utilize one style of music? Do you consider other forms of music beneath you? Do you look down on musicians who don’t have the same gifting as you do?

These two quotes towards the end of chapter 1 of Harold Best’s “Music Through the Eyes of Faith” might be helpful (and convicting). May God enable classically trained musicians to take joy in jazz, hip-hop musicians to take joy in Bach, and by-ear guitarists to take joy in organ music – all for the glory of God.

“When Jesus Christ became flesh, he became a part of the creation in exactly the same way that every human being has. That is, even though he was fully God, he came fully human… In a way, God was simplified. And as with so many simplicities, this deepens the mystery. While this emptying means everything to our redemption, it applies to our artistic and musical creativity with nearly equal force. An analogy may help. Let’s say that before Christ became human, he could be likened to a symphony, in all its complexity and power – magnificence carried out over a grand expanse. But when he became human, he became a folk tune, simple and shortened… His becoming a folk tone was not a compromise, a dilution, a put-down, or a thinning out… Becoming a folk tune was a uniqueness in itself, with its own wholeness, integrity, and usefulness. Putting it this way prevents us from saying that a folk tune is a thinned-out or reduced symphony. Rather, it is an emptied symphony, completely possessed of its own wholeness, integrity, and uniqueness… Each musician must come to experience the dignity, rightness, and eventual joy of putting things aside, of emptying oneself and taking the form of a servant. Such musicians must be able to move back and forth, gracefully, servingly, and willingly, from the symphony to the folk tune, back and forth without complaint, compromise, or snobbery, without the conceit that doing an oratorio is somehow more worthy or more deserving than doing a hymn tune. All servant musicians must be able to be in creative transit, serving this community and challenging that one, all the while showing grace, power, elegance, and imagination.”
The Incarnation, Human Creativity, and Music Making, pages 32 and 33

“Which is the greater mystery, that Christ is God or that he could empty himself while remaining God? Likewise, which is greatest mystery, that we are artistically creative or that we can remain just as fully creative while emptying ourselves?”
The Incarnation, Human Creativity, and Music Making, pg. 34

See part one and part two for more quotes.

Praying for Unction

Unction isn’t a word you hear very often these days, but maybe that’s not such a good thing.

Tullian Tchividjian, the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, recently shared on his blog about how his “heart burns” for God’s “sacred anointing”, or “unction”.

While his post is written for preachers, I wanted to share it here because worship leading is another form of preaching. Every week, worship leaders have 15, 20, 30, or more minutes to point their congregations to the greatness and glory of God in Jesus Christ through music. So, read this post and where you see the words “preaching” or “preachers” – insert “worship leading” or “worship leaders”. May we all pray for God’s sacred anointing, his unction, every single time we get up to lead.


I’m a die-hard believer in unction. Unction is an old fashioned word which describes an effusion of power from the Holy Spirit as one preaches. It is the one thing preachers need above everything else. It is the accompanying power of the Spirit. This is what Charles Spurgeon dubbed “the sacred annointing.” It is power from on high.

In his book on the preaching of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Sacred Annointing, Tony Sargent describes unction well. He writes:

[Unction] is the afflatus of the Spirit resting on the speaker. It is the preacher gliding on eagles’ wings, soaring high, swooping low, carrying and being carried along by a dynamic other than his own. His consciousness of what is happening is not obliterated. He is not in a trance. He is being worked on but is aware that he is still working. He is being spoken through but he knows he is still speaking. The words are his but the facility with which they come compels him to realise that the source is beyond himself. The man is overwhelmed. He is on fire.

Oh how my heart burns for this sacred annointing, this unction! I hope and pray that preachers all over the world would spend much of their sermon preparation time begging God for this power on high. For, it is preachers who are borne along by the Holy Spirit that are used to effect a deep and sobering awareness of God and his truth that transforms.

In his book Lloyd-Jones: Messenger of Grace, Iain Murray writes:

Preaching under the annointing of the Holy Spirit is preaching which brings with it a consciousness of God. It produces an impression upon the hearer that is altogether stronger than anything belonging to the circumstances of the occasion. Visible things fall into the background; the surroundings, the fellow worshippers, even the speaker himself, all become secondary to an awareness of God himself. Instead of witnessing a public gathering, the hearer receives the conviction that he is being addressed personally, and with an authority greater than that of a human messenger.

Given the fact that the ultimate factor in the church’s engagement with society is the church’s engagement with God, my earnest prayer is that, for the sake of the world, more preachers would come to know and understand what Andrew Bonar meant when he wrote: “It is one thing to bring truth from the Bible, and another to bring it from God himself through the Bible.”

Please pray, dear friends, that God would annoint my mind and mouth on Sunday as I preach so that God’s people would hear from God. Please pray that God’s Spirit would so inhabit my words that everyone would leave worship tomorrow being able to say, “God was surely in that place.”

I can’t manufacture unction regardless of how well crafted my sermon is and how well prepared I may be. The biggest work must come from God.

So, come thou fount of every blessing and do for your people what I cannot. Amen.

Read Tullian’s post here.

Practical Ways Worship Leaders Can “Decrease”

Chant“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:3

These words, first spoken by John the Baptist to a group of some of his disciples, should be a worship leader’s first and last prayer every time he or she stands before a group of people. That the glory of God, as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, would be magnified, and that I would not receive one bit of the worship that is due Him.

Here are a few practical ways (there are more!) that worship leaders can “decrease”.

Get your face off the screen
If your church utilizes screens to project the image of whomever is up front (i.e. big churches with big screens), ask the video crew to not project your face during the time of singing. If, in between a song you offer a word of encouragement or a prayer, then it might make sense for your face to be on the screen. But during the time of singing, when the priority is the congregation’s active participation in singing praises to God, one good way for you to decrease is to not have your giant face projected behind or above the song lyrics.

Take your name off of things
I’ve visited church services where the music director or worship leader’s name is not only featured prominently in the bulletin, but also repetitively. It’s on page one, front and center, after every song he or she leads, and on the back page too. I understand wanting to communicate “who’s who” to the congregation – but some worship leaders seem to enjoy seeing their name in print a bit too much. If you’re going out of your way to make sure the bulletin gives you credit for every single thing you do in a service, every song you play, and every ensemble you lead, you might be craving more attention than you deserve.

Don’t dress to impress
I’ve seen some male worship leaders wear shirts that are either too tight, built to show off their muscles, v-necked to give their chest hair room to breathe, decorated with graphics or text that resemble a Rorschach test, or are two sizes too small. I find myself too distracted by what they’re wearing to focus on what I’m singing about. Not good. Worship leaders need to be careful about what they wear. Err on the side of boring, baggy, and bland. I’d rather blend in than stand out.

Don’t talk too much
There are times when it’s helpful for you to talk (What Are You Talking About Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5), but most of the time it’s more helpful for you to just sing. Resist the urge to say something in between each song. Stay away from personal stories. Keep it simple. Generally, the more you talk as a worship leader, the more your presence in a worship service “increases”.

Sing the melody (the right one)
Stay away from vocal embellishments, high notes, runs, “yeah yeah yeah’s”, “oh, oh, oh’s”, and switching back-and-forth between harmony and melody all the time. People will find themselves more focused on trying to figure out what in the world they should be singing, than actually singing it. They’ll either become frustrated with you, or content to just listen to you display your vocal prowess.

Be gentle
No one likes to be yelled or growled at. Be careful not to yell at people when you’re leading them in singing. It’s good to be confident, enthusiastic, and to model what it looks like to sing with your whole heart – but effective shepherds don’t beat their sheep.

Choose songs wisely
If I’m asked to lead worship for a small church’s retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, my priority will be singing songs they know, and teaching songs they’ll be able to sing. In whatever setting you lead – don’t choose your songs based on what you like – choose songs that will help people encounter the greatness of God. It might mean choosing songs that are older, quieter, or different from what you prefer, but it’s worth it.

Don’t sing at the people – sing with them
There is a subtle difference between singing at people and singing with people. You sing at people when they come to your concert. You wear nice clothes, look them in the eye, grin at them, work on your “stage presence”, point a lot, and revel in their applause. You sing with people when they come to encounter the greatness of God. You humbly stand before them, lead them with your example and God-given gifts, and sing with one voice to the one who is great and greatly to be praised.

I’ve heard it said that the role of a worship leader is similar to that of an usher at a wedding. An usher at a wedding is prepared, kind, there to serve, shows people how to get where they need to go from where they are, and does everything he can to make the wedding go smoothly. If the usher does a good job, no one leaves the wedding talking about the usher.

If a worship leader does a good job, no one leaves the service talking about the worship leader. That’s a sign that the worship leader’s prayer was answered – that “He must increase, but I must decrease”.