Worship Leader Resolutions: 2016

1Happy 2016, worship leaders!

It’s a new year, full of new potential, new opportunities, new emails from that one person in your congregation (you know who I’m talking about), and new songs that will be old and forgotten by 2017.

I will be adopting these worship leader new year’s resolutions in the months ahead, and I (cue the octave jump) STRONGLY RECOMMEND YOU DO THE SAME.

1. New song sandwiches
In order to accommodate the high volume of new worship songs being released every week, I am going to begin introducing two new songs at once, but pretending it’s just one new song, when in reality, it’s a new song sandwich.
Beginning: New song A (part 1).
Middle: New song B.
Ending: New song A (part 2).
Optional reprise: Intermingled blend of new song A (part 1), and new song B (part 2).

2. Smart-lasers
It’s not enough to shine lasers on the worship team. And it’s not enough to shine lasers on the congregation. Those lasers need to be smart enough lasers to shine directly into the hearts of people who just aren’t into it and wake them up. Shine, lasers, shine.

3. Explore the space
Every song needs at least a four-minute instrumental break. At least.

4. More shofars
Speaking of instrumental breaks that will usher in unparalleled revival, it is time to reclaim the shofar and give it it’s deserved prominence in every single song. Sho far? So. Good.

5. Stage extensions
Ever seen how Taylor Swift has that cool stage that lets her walk out into the middle of the audience in her shows? That’s got “congregational engagement” written all over it. Droopy-eyed early service? Tuned-out teens? Dance out onto that stage extension and shake it off.

6. A new approach to octave jumps
You will not find a greater advocate for the absolute necessity of an octave jump in every song than me. I don’t think a song without an octave jump is even worth singing. But simple octave jumps are just not enough anymore. They have lost their power. It’s time to embrace a new approach to octave jumps. Follow me here, and follow me closely. I am copyrighting this approach as “The FaceMelter”:
Step 1: Start first verse down an octave.
Step 2: Jump octave on the SECOND WORD. This will surprise people. Excellent.
Step 3: Third word? Back down to original octave.
Step 4: At the very first beat of the first chorus: Initiate a half-step modulation.
Step 5: Next verse, modulate another 2.5 steps.
Step 6: This is when you step on the gas. Jump octave.
Step 7: Jump it again. Can’t do it? Try harder.
Step 8: Back down to original key.
Step 9: Drummer modulates a whole step. Tell him to ask the pianist what this is.
Step 10: Sho-far solo. Recharge lasers.

THIS RESOLUTION SPONSORED BY DRUMMERS:
7. Put the flutists in a plexiglas cage
For too long, flutists have had SUCH an easy time. They’re polite, they’re unobtrusive, their instrument can fit in their pocket, and in the event of a water landing, their instrument can also be used as a snorkel. It’s time to surround them with plexiglas, absorption panels, plexiglas extenders, an absorption ceiling, and a little more plexiglas just for good measure. Throw in a little fan to blow their music off the music stand. And stuff their flute with two pillows. Control those rebel flutists!

8. New catchphrases
Worship leader: do not underestimate the power of an effective catchphrase. Suggestions:
Opener: I’m here… you’re here… it’s singing time!
– Song transition: And now let’s break it down.
– Ice breaker: Find that person next to you and hug em’ real good.
– Before the sermon: And now let’s put on our listening ears.
– At the dismissal: Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter!
Classic (one of my faves): You are now free to move about the cabin of praise!

9. Growling
There is never a good excuse for a worship leader not to growl at least four times during a worship set.

10. Conga lines
The worship renewal of the 1970s was characterized by the prominence of conga lines. Time to bring those babies back. Conga lines + new song sandwiches + shofars + lasers + The FaceMelter + catchphrases + growling + stage extensions? You’re a good good worship leader! It’s who you are.

Happy new year! Go hug a flutist.

 

Flammable Sound And Its Implications

1Sometimes you find beauty in the most unexpected of places.

And then sometimes you find something you’re not sure how to describe in a place where you’re not totally surprised to find something like it but you’re still surprised to find it even though you’re not sure what it is.

That would describe my mental state last night when I stumbled upon an ad for an upcoming worship album which featured a phrase that almost took my breath away, but not quite all the way, leaving me with just enough breath to continue to breathe, and to continue to live to share the unexpected beauty of its mystery with you.

There, in all-caps, against a backdrop of a red-dust spreading ballet dancer in a pose I call the “Ouchie Pretzel”, was this phrase:

YOUR SOUND IGNITES THE COLOR OF HIS LOVE.

I found myself immediately questioning not only myself, but also all I know to be logical and established and true:

1. Does love have a color?
2. Can color be ignited?
3. Can (or could) sound ignite flammable color?
4. If sound can be used to ignite color, and if love has a color, then what’s the deal with all the frozen yogurt shops popping up everywhere?

Then a more philosophical question hit me:

1. What in the world does YOUR SOUND IGNITES THE COLOR OF HIS LOVE mean?

I realized in that moment something very true:

Obviously, it means that the more we draw sounds with the intonation of our thoughts and physicality in the universal realm of ballet, we’ll ignite an invisible flame that will actually be a reverse flame that doesn’t burn but actually creates something new in its place like a dimension in the musical sphere that’s unexplainable by words and incomprehensible by the human or animal mind, all the while transcending our very existence and leading us to that quiet place where we can commune with God.

How have I missed that simple truth all these years?

This ad awakened me to a new level of worship leading profundity. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. It’s almost like I’ve stumbled across a new path that I never knew was there, but if I had only looked I would have seen the path was there the whole time, kind of like that time I lost my car keys for an hour but they were sitting on the kitchen island laughing at me (silently, like the flammable color of love) the whole time.

YOUR SOUND IGNITES THE COLOR OF HIS LOVE.

In other words, the mathematical yet musical combination of intervals that form themselves to create a culturally conditioned yet innately recognized product that we’ve deemed “music” (when we could have just as easily deemed it “croissants”) can literally and/or figuratively and/or eternally and/or tangentially ignite (using that word interchangeably with “jazz hands”) the color, which is really just a fancy way of saying “don’t do what you do, but be what you do, so that you end up doing what you’re made to be”, of his love, which is all possible for $9.99 on iTunes.

Get it today before your color is up and you’ve missed the ignition of the sound.

Or was it all just a dream? I’m going to get some frozen yogurt.

Don’t Eat the Chocolate: Why Contemporary Worship Music is Dead, Dying, and Decaying

1It’s become clear to me that contemporary worship music is dead, dying, and decaying. Think I’m wrong? I’m not. Here’s my proof (read it and weep. Really. Please weep):

1. The new songs aren’t nearly as old as the older songs
“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” was written in 1779! “Ten Thousand Reasons” was written in 2011. These new songs aren’t even close to being as old as the old songs. The old songs have been around for several hundred years! These new ones? Not nearly that long!

2. Some of the new songs are trying to pretend they’re old hymns
Have you read some of the new songs? They’re trying to act like they’re hymns, with their deep theology and everything. It’s ridiculous.

3. Whatever happened to singing Isaac Watts?
Hasn’t he written anything new lately? Why aren’t we singing his new stuff? Even more ridiculous. We’re missing out on new material from the old hymn writers.

4. Bad stuff
Some of the new stuff coming out is really bad and unsingable. You think the old hymn writers ever wrote bad hymns and ended up throwing them away? I doubt it. How do you spell infallible? S-P-A-F-F-O-R-D, that’s how.

5. Look in the old hymnals…
See any of these new songs in the old hymnals? Nope. They’re not good enough to be in there.

6. Repetition is never appealing
These new song writers have never studied great compositions like the “Hallelujah Chorus” or “Psalm 107” to see how you don’t need to repeat phrases to emphasize something.

7. No time for filtering
We need to wait another hundred years (at least!) before we event think about singing these new songs being written, so we can make sure they’re safe for us to sing. Once these new songs are 100 years old, if they’re still around, then maybe we can sing them. Maybe.

8. There aren’t as many new songs as there are old songs
We have more material from the last 2,000 years (not to mention all the years BC) than all of the songs written after 1970 combined! I think that says something.

9. Our forefathers didn’t sing these new songs
If these new songs weren’t good enough for our forefathers to sing several hundred years ago, then they’re not good enough for me. My great-grandfather had never heard of Chris Tomlin when he was alive.

10. We’re done being creative
There’s nothing more to be said that hasn’t been said, there are no new melodies that need to be written that haven’t already been written, and there’s no need to be creative anymore because we reached our creative quota in about 1913. Except for “In Christ Alone”. That one earns an exception. It slipped through just in time. Barely. But don’t tell anyone. We’re done. Really. Stop it.

In closing, contemporary worship music (hereafter referred to as CWM) is like a box of chocolates that you got for Christmas, and then forgot about, and stuffed it away with all the Christmas wrap, and found it the next year, still shrink-wrapped, and wondered to yourself “will I die if I eat this?” The answer is “yes”. Yes, you will die, and the last thing you’ll ever have run through your mind is “I didn’t know this one had the disgusting strawberry liqueur filling”. Yes, you did know, because I’m telling you. Stay away from CWM and eat the older chocolate instead. Oh no my analogy just broke down…

Ten More Ways to Annoy Your Sound Engineer

1A few years ago I shared some thoughts on how to annoy your sound engineer. They seemed to be helpful to people so I thought I’d share some more. Obviously, you might not want to implement all these suggestions on the same Sunday.

Make him touch your ears
You’re too important to learn how to put your ear monitors in the correct way, or in the correct ear, so make him do it for you. Bonus points if you make him try to figure out how to put your belt pack on without getting sued for harrasment.

Have long rehearsals
Sound engineers have nothing better to do than sit at the console while you rehearse that one song again. They love being trapped there while you figure out what songs to do. They don’t mind a bit not being able to go home and sleep because you’re goofing around. It’s fun for them!

Sing like you’re telling secrets
If you can master the art of singing with a whimpery, yet raspy, yet emotional, yet passionate, yet secret whisper from the inner regions of your soul, your sound engineer will have no trouble at all finding a good place for your vocals in the mix. Bonus points if you choose random moments to sing normally before reverting to the whisper again. It’s hilarious.

Tell him what you think about the mix when you’re on stage
You’re standing on stage. You’re behind the speakers. You can’t actually hear what it sounds like in the room. But go ahead and tell him it sounds like your guitar isn’t loud enough. Keep telling him. Until your guitar sounds loud enough to you. You’ve successfully made him your best friend.

Display your awesomeness
First song: you’re on acoustic. Second song: you’re on accordion. Third song: back on acoustic. Fourth song: floor tom. Fifth song: you’re on banjo (but let’s be serious: you can’t really play banjo, so he should turn it down so no one knows). Sixth song: you’re on electric. Your sound engineer will love you.

Can you do me a favor and give me a bit less hi-hat, and bump up the kick by 2b, and pan the electric to the right, and give me about 6db more acoustic in my left, and give me a bit more reverb on my vocal?
Oh and can you get me a Latte too? OK thanks.

Throw him under the bus
Lets say you get an email from Verna, a long-time member of the church, and she complains that it was too loud on Sunday. What should you do? Blame the sound engineer. You are not responsible for your music. Throw the sound engineer under the bus and go buy yourself another scarf.

Expect him to do eight things at once
1. Run sound. 2. Run monitors. 3. Run projection. 4. Record the sermon. 5. Hand out assisted-listening devices. 6. Control lights. 7. Play the video at the right time. 8. Touch your ears. He’s superman.

Give feedback feedback
He loves when you do this! Hear feedback? Tell him you hear feedback. Try to recreate the feedback by thumping your mic with your pointer finger. Or, better yet, try to fix the feedback by holding the palm of your hand over your mic. Then you might create even worse feedback, in which case you can prove to your sound engineer that you really were hearing feedback. Then he might kill you.

Pretend his first name is “Hey”
All sound engineers have one first name, and it’s “Hey”. Seriously, it’s so convenient. “Hey, can you turn my mic on?” “Hey, can you give me a bit more keyboard?” “Hey, can you bring me my scarf?”

What am I missing (besides my Latte)?

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.

Top Ten Ways Anglican Churches Can Grow in Worship – Pt. 1

This past weekend I had the privilege of leading worship in Southern California for the Diocese of Western Anglican’s Kingdom Conference. This diocese is made up of congregations that were once in the Episcopal church but have left to remain faithful to Jesus and Holy Scripture, and now belong to a new diocese together in the Anglican Church in North America. It’s exciting to see how God is reforming and working in the Anglican church.

I’ve belonged to an Anglican church my entire life. Many years in Episcopal churches, and more recently as part of the churches that have left and been aligned with the new American branch of Anglicanism.

I taught a seminar on Saturday titled “Ten Ways Anglican Churches Can Grow in Worship“. Tomorrow I’ll share the important stuff that I said, since I think a lot of it applies in non-Anglican churches too. Today I thought I’d share the joke I started off with.

Inspired by David Letterman, here are my tongue-in-cheek ways Anglican churches can grow in worship. Drum roll please…

10. Two words: donut guild.
9. Vestry candidate dance-off.
8. 40 days of Lent replaced with 40 days of Cheesecake.
7. Massaging pews.
6. Instead of the response “…and also with you”, the congregation says “right back atcha dude”.
5. New rule: cold pasta salads at church potlucks are grounds for immediate excommunication.
4. Security detail assigned to remove off-beat clappers
3. New game for bored middle schoolers: spit ball the snoozers.
2.“Passing of the peace” replaced with “passing of the pizza”
1. New name for genuflecting… Tebowing.

Top Ten Ways to Annoy Your Sound Engineer

The importance of sound engineers on Sunday mornings cannot be overstated. You, your team, your choir, your musicians, your pastors, and your pet turtles can rehearse every day of the week, but if your sound engineer falls asleep on Sunday morning or decides to blast the congregation with 15 seconds of screaming feedback, nothing else can matter.

So then it’s important not to annoy them. You want to be on the same team, striving for the same goal, building one another up in love, and not harboring resentment or frustration. An annoyed sound engineer will either (a) quit, (b) not care, or (c) both.

Some worship leaders might not realize how they’re annoying their sound engineer. Here are ten ways:

Unplug your guitar without making sure the channel is muted first. News flash: your sound engineer often has 89 things on his mind. Catch his eye and make sure he’s muted your guitar before you unplug it and make all the old ladies jump out of their skin.

Look at your sound engineer like it’s his fault when you do something stupid. I’ve mastered the art of this one. Let’s say I unplug my guitar before the channel is muted. Old ladies then jump out of their skin, and parents throw themselves on top of their children to protect them from the sounds of gunfire. What do I do? I look at the sound engineer like he should be ashamed of himself. For some reason this annoys them…

Always ask for more. I need a little bit more of my voice. OK now I need less Susan. And can I have more of my guitar? OK, now I need a lot more of my voice. I’m still hearing too much keyboard. Can you turn my guitar up please? Now I could use less electric. I can’t hear my voice. Is my guitar in this thing? (kneel down and put your ear to the monitor) I don’t think this monitor is on. Can you turn me up in it? I just need a lot less of everybody else and a whole lot more of me. Yes, just turn me up. Turn the rest of the band down. I could still use a lot more of my guitar. Can you give me some reverb please?

Assume that your request is the most important thing in the whole wide world. News flash: your sound engineer often is having to deal with burned out batteries, bad cables, setting gain structures, EQ, feedback, running monitors, recording the sermon, making sure the preacher has a mic, fixing the projector, dealing with complaints, and guitarists who are unplugging their guitar before the channel is muted. Just because you’re the worship leader and your guitar is too loud at the moment doesn’t mean he can drop all those things to attend to you.

Can you come down here and move this monitor three inches while I stand here with my guitar and watch you run down from the sound desk and back again? Sure, I could move it myself, but I’m the worship leader and I have to protect my hands.

Assume that your sound engineer can read minds. You want your back-up singer to start off the third song? Do you think you could tell your sound engineer ahead of time? No, it’s probably a better idea to keep that a secret and let him read your mind.

I know that you’re a sound engineer and have been setting up for three hours and have carefully considered mic placement and how to avoid feedback, but I’m the worship leader and I’d like to move everything around please. I’ve done this and it’s not pretty. You’re now moving beyond the realm of annoying your sound engineer into provoking his wrath and indignation against you.

Expect your sound engineer to defy the limits of the sound board. OK, so this Sunday I have four vocalists, 2 guitars, an electric, a bass, drums, keyboard, hand percussion, a small choir, a trumpet player, a synthesizer, and flute. Nevermind we have an 8-channel board and 2 monitor mixes. Jesus multiplied the fishes and loaves, right? Get on it, sound engineer. Work your miracles.

Treat your microphone like it’s contagious. I like to sing with my mouth 8 inches away from the microphone. That way it lets the “space” get into the sound. Treat the microphone like it’s contagious. It’s awesome. It’s the new thing. My sound guy loves it. But for some reason it’s never loud enough. Go figure.

Oh, yeah, I’m sorry, we didn’t tell you that we decided half an hour ago to change the order of the service and what person was assigned to speak at different times. There was a moat filled with hungry alligators that was keeping us from reaching the sound desk, and those alligators had cell phone blocking technology which kept my text messages from going through, and those loud popping noises you heard were the hungry alligators unplugging my guitar when the channel wasn’t muted. You should really be more attentive.