Jazz as a form of Worship

Jazz is near and dear to my heart.  Some of the most transcendent moments of worship I’ve ever personally experienced were while playing or listening to jazz.  These things didn’t happen in church, but my spirit was moved profoundly.  I saw this piece on using jazz in church.  It has me thinking about exploring more ways to use jazz and less mainstream forms of music to express our worship to the Lord.

What’s the Most Common Weakness for Worship Leaders?

I was at a conference recently talking to Todd Fields, one of the worship leaders at North Point Church in Atlanta.  Todd does a lot of worship leader coaching.  I asked him what was the most common thing that worship leaders needed to work on.  He said that it was, by far, their ability to talk to the congregation as they were leading.  He spent the most time working with them on this skill.  When I first began leading worship I struggled with this a lot.  Here are some of my thoughts on how to get better at speaking to the congregation.

  • Remember why you’re saying something:  It is to help people connect their hearts to what they’re singing.  It isn’t to make you look clever or to “warm up” the crowd.  It’s to help them connect their hearts in worship.
  • Plan it out.  Don’t expect that you’ll just be able to come up with something inspiring on the fly.  I always think through what I’m going to say.  Often I write it out before hand to make sure my thoughts are clear.  Then I rehearse it by myself, and sometimes with the band.
  • It’s not about you.  Don’t talk about yourself too much.  And don’t tell stories where you’re the hero.  It sounds self serving and off-putting.
  • Brevity is crucial.  You need to craft what you’re going to say so you don’t waste time trying to get it out.
  • Be inviting, inclusive and positive.  Use “We, Us” instead of “I, me” in your exhorting.
  • Don’t preach the sermon.  Leave something for the Pastor!  Don’t give away his key points!
  • A little goes a long way.  You don’t need to talk about every song in the set.  But sharing your heart once in the midst of a worship set can be very powerful.

I’ll be coming with more aids for worship leaders who struggle with speaking to the congregation while they’re leading. Stay Tuned!

A Call to Worship – 10 Things to know about them

Hey!  Worship!

That’s a call to worship.  It’s something that gets the congregation’s attention (“Hey!”) and then invites them to worship (“Worship!”).  That particular call to worship is primitive. I don’t recommend that you use it next Sunday morning.  A good call to worship focuses our attention on something about God, his character or what he has done.  As we contemplate, our hearts instinctively move to to worship, so the next part of the call to worship is an invitation to do that.  Where can we find calls to worship?  Of course the psalms are full of them.  Psalm 95, Psalm 100, the list goes on.  Often the opening stanza of a psalm of praise makes for a great call to worship.  Although I prefer to use scripture in opening up a time of sung worship, you can also do it more informally, but just sharing something praiseworthy about God, and then inviting people to respond in worship.

Some songs can act as a call to worship.  Of course, Brian Doerksen’s “Come, Now is the Time To Worship” is a perfect (though perhaps over-used) example.  But there are many others.

Here are 10 things to think about when crafting your call to worship:

  1. It calls the congregation together in unity and reminds them of why they’ve gathered
  2. It presents some aspect of God that moves us to respond in worship
  3. It should engage both the intellect and the emotions
  4. It should be simple and brief – it ain’t the sermon
  5. It should be focused on God, not a funny thing that happened to you on the way to church
  6. It should include scripture, if not quoted, it should be referred to.  Such as “Psalm 27 tells us that the Lord is our light, our salvation and our stronghold.  That even in the midst of war we can be confident in him.  Let’s lift our voices together and worship our God and protector.”
  7. Challenging passages that require explanation and giving context should probably be avoided.  I have yet to hear an inspiring and concise call to worship from Leviticus.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Leviticus, but there are other times in the service where it can be used.
  8. It should be practiced and delivered with confidence and feeling – practice it as much as you practice a song.
  9. It should be connected somehow to the opening song.  It should tell why we are singing the opening song.
  10. I recommend that the congregation stand for this.  It is a signal that the service has begun and it also indicates that something important is happening.  And what’s more important than worship?

If you put thought into your call to worship you’ll bless your entire congregation.  For examples of calls to worship check out the or the worship sourcebook.


How does Worship Grow Your Faith?

I’ve been reading “Deep and Wide” by Andy Stanley.  In this book he lays out his philosophy of ministry.  As he writes about spiritual formation he lists 5 things that help your faith to grow:

  1. Practical Teaching
  2. Providential Relationships
  3. Private Disciplines
  4. Personal Ministry
  5. Pivotal Circumstances

It’s hard to argue with that list. If you listen to almost anyone’s testimony, you’re going to hear some of these things listed.

As a worship leader, it got me thinking.  What does corporate worship have to do with spiritual formation?  Specifically, what does congregational singing have to do with growing your faith?  Where does it fit in?

First, congregational singing is related to practical teaching.  Good hymns and worship songs put truth together with melody in a way that penetrates our minds and hearts.  And it stays with us.  Congregational worship also prepares our hearts for the preaching and teaching of the word.

Secondly, congregational worship also helps during times of pivotal circumstances.  I can think of one couple who saw their baby daughter endure several heart surgeries.  They told me how much it meant to them to come to church during that time and to sing Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name” with their church family.  That song still reminds them of God’s faithfulness to them through that difficult season.  We also know that often God uses a song to speak to us, or we respond to what God is saying to us through a song.  Again, I’d say these moments are often associated with pivotal circumstances.

Thirdly, songs learned during congregational singing often find their way into our private worship (and vice versa).  So our congregational worship can help us in our private spiritual disciplines –  one more intersection between Stanley’s list and what we do as worship leaders.

Surely there are more.  What are your thoughts?

6 Things to know about using a horn section with your Worship team

sax_by_thenysThere’s nothing like the energy of a tight R&B horn section to add energy to your band. But if you’ve never worked with horns it can be difficult to know where to start.  Here are 6 things you need to know so that you can get that Tower of Power sound on a Sunday morning.

  1. Get Some good horn arrangements
    You can’t just have some horn players show up and have them join in with the band.  If you just let them “roam free” you’re in trouble.  Get arrangements for them.  I use praisecharts.com because they have great sounding arrangements for most popular worship songs.  Praisecharts has a variety of different arrangements for a wide range of skill levels.  DO NOT just have the horns play along with the melody because they’ll just obscure and overpower the vocals.  You never hear a pro horn section do that… there’s a good reason!
  2. Play in “horn friendly” keys
    Guitar driven worship bands most often play in keys with lots of sharps.  But if you want your horn section to sound good and play confidently, you need to play in keys with flats – Bb instead of A, Eb or F instead of E.  Anything with flats in the key signature will make your horn players happy.  This is why the Good Lord created the capo!

Recommended Resources V: Youversion Bible App

I’m reading the Bible almost exclusively on my phone these days.  For the past decade or so I’ve read the through the entire Bible every year.  I’ve worn out two copies of the NIV One Year Bible and I also read the Message in one year a couple of times.  But now I use YouVersion.  I’ve selected a different reading plan every the past three years and it has been really effective for me.  Its been easier to keep up to date with my plan, as I have my phone almost everywhere I go.  I wouldn’t always carry my bible with me (for shame!).  So definitely get the app and use it to keep up with your daily Bible intake.

I still get out my old leather bound Bible from time to time.  It’s good to do whatever you can to keep things fresh, and I find I prefer the real thing for more indepth study.  But the more avenues you have to get scripture into your soul, the better.

Highlights from our Mother’s Day Services

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After this tribute we had our Spiritual Formation Coordinator, Susan Moore, pray for mothers.  Here’s her prayer:

Let’s pray together for mothers:   Father,  in this congregation I’m sure we have a wide range of experiences connected to our mothers.  For those of us who had or have great moms, we give you thanks.  For their nurture and spiritual guidance and example of sacrificial love, we give you thanks.  For wonderful memories and fun times spent with our mothers, we give you thanks.  For some of us our mothers are not thriving as they face the many challenges of old age.  We lift them up to you, Father.  Draw them to yourself, that they might experience the comfort of your presence as the limitations and the loneliness of old age set in.  For any who don’t know you, may we be faithful to show your love to them and to pray for them daily in anticipation of the day when their eyes will be opened and they  join us in the family of God. 

We pray for mothers whose children are far away – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Please touch them and give them hope and faithfulness in prayer for their children.  Help them to know that they are not alone, for you are the great comforter who can fill our empty places with love, gratitude and meaning.

We give thanks for those children who are here today in church solely to please a mom they love.  We pray that when life’s challenges and disappointments come, they might once again find comfort and hope in the faith they were raised with.  Draw them – and us – to our spiritual home and resting place in you.

I pray for all the mothers in this room,  that we might be growing in Christ, maturing in the faith that will empower us to love well. Help us to speak well of You, to influence our children to walk in your ways.  May we be mentors and guides to those who follow us, whether  we are talking about the kids we physically gave birth to, or the spiritual children who look to those of us who are walking on ahead on the journey of faith.

We pray for the new moms in our congregation – and we have many of them – who are adapting to this awesome responsibility of raising a child and who are learning how to give selflessly to their children.  Help them to enjoy this time, the dependence that sometimes feels overwhelming, but soon enough will be over as their children grow up and leave the nest.

For some, mother’s day is a painful thing.  We lift up those who have long wanted to be mothers, but have been unable to.  Comfort and encourage them on this difficult day. Some here have trouble being thankful for the mothers they had and in fact are still recovering from hurts and wounds and can’t imagine the day when they will be able to thank God and take initiative into their mother’s life again.  But we pray for that Father, for forgiveness and grace to flow from child to mother and mother to child.  We pray for healing of fractured relationships and disappointing realities.  Our human relationships are wonderful and painful both.  When they are wonderful, we praise you.  When they are painful, they propel us to you.  Our hope is in you Lord.  Your Word reminds us that you are gentle with us and comfort us as a mother comforts her child.  You shelter us with your feathers and under your wings we find refuge.  You have written our names on the palms of your hands.  We love you and grateful  for all you have done for us.


More Thoughts about Mother’s Day

Christianity Today has some more thoughts on celebrating Mother’s Day at church. It is so important that as worship leaders we understand the broad range of emotions that are present in our people on Mother’s Day (and every Sunday, for that matter).

I think Isaiah models the sensitivity we should have when approaching Mother’s Day.

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”
Isaiah 49:15

God upholds motherhood as the highest standard of human love with he rhetorical question “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast?” But then with his next words, “Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” He acknowledges that sometimes even a mother’s love can fail. Only God can can love us perfectly.

That’s a message of hope for everyone who comes to church on Mother’s Day.

Recommended Resources IV: Logic Pro X

I just upgraded to Logic Pro X. It is my go-to DAW(Digital Audio Workstation).  I’m still amazed at all the functionality you can get for just $199 at the App Store.  I use it just for songwriting and for making demo recordings.  I suppose if I were choosing a DAW for professional music production I’d go with Pro Tools, but for my needs, Logic is the best choice.

One new feature that blows me away on Logic Pro X is the new virtual drummer module. Logic comes with a stable of 16 different drummers.  You choose one that fits the genre of your song.  Find a pre-set that and then begin tailoring the “loudness” and “complexity” of their playing to your arrangement.  You can even ask the virtual drummer to follow another track, such as the bass.  I can’t get some real drummers to follow the bass player!  As someone who doesn’t play drums or have the skill to program drums, this module alone is worth the price of the whole package.