September 29, 2015 - 1 comment.

Blocks: Use A Song Catalog


(Continuing in my series about leading worship in a replant, I’ll discuss something any worship ministry can benefit from. This week we’ll look at WHY catalogs are helpful. Next week I’ll unpack HOW to build a catalog.  Stay tuned…)

What’s A Catalog?

When worship leaders reach out for coaching wanting guidance or input on their worship ministry, one of the first things I ask about is regarding the use of catalogs.  Most are familiar with the concept but pick songs for their congregation with little attention to frequency, consistency, or breadth.  The top 10 CCM songs are not a thoughtful or even helpful way of choosing songs for Sunday.  Using a catalog hlps your congregation, your musicians, and is a great tool for worship leaders to balance the “worship diet” of their church.

First let’s define the term for our use:
A catalog is a set bank of songs used for a set period of time at a set location that balances the worship diet of your congregation.  For example, we use a catalog that changes every 3 months, of around 25 songs at Doxa.

Here’s a quick rundown on a few of the tested advantages I’ve seen play out:

1.  It’s helpful for your congregation (and guests).

It’s very hard to encourage participation in the congregation if they are constantly learning new material. They need to have several reps of the same song before it becomes familiar to them, and this happens long after the musicians (because we’ve practiced it several times for every single time they hear it on a Sunday). In addition, if someone new comes to our church for several weeks in a row, we want them to begin to recognize the music and feel an active part of our gatherings.  Our songs are a part of our shared culture and language.  We say, “a guest should recognize several songs if they spend a month with us”.

2.  It’s helpful for your teaching pastor.

In many churches, the teaching pastor has ten times the theological training that the worship leader does.  This is highly problematic, but that’s another post for another day.  Giving your teaching pastor a voice into the songs you use for Sundays is a great checkpoint, especially if they aren’t musically inclined.  Using a catalog can help you work on the worship menu together and gives you a fighting chance at tying in the music with upcoming teaching themes.  It also allows for your teaching pastor to request songs more easily when he has the catalog in hand.  The benefits for planning services with a catalog are numerous.

3.  It’s helpful for the worship leader.

Every worship leader has a certain number of songs they could play at any moment.  There are another group of songs that with a quick glance at a lyric sheet you could pull off.  Still other songs would require the chord chart to be in front of you and several practices.  This is true because depending on many factors, you only have so much memory recall to allocate towards the songs you are playing.

If you utilize a catalog, you can prepare smarter.  Rather than just prepare for the looming Sunday, use rehearsals to play through a portion of your catalog.  This can mean it’s never been more than a few weeks since you’ve played an active catalog song.  I can’t overstate how helpful this is.  This saves time previously spent trying to remember that one tune you haven’t played for months.  It creates space in practices for praying together, writing and creativity with your band or team, not to mention polishing the songs that need a little extra work.

4. It helps with a balanced worship diet.

Using a catalog is a great way to ensure a “balanced diet” for your congregation.  The Psalms are full of a breadth of human emotion.  With a catalog in place, it’s easier to intentionally have songs in rotation that cover celebration, despair, doubt, gratitude, and confession.  Here is a sample of some of the balances we are striving for in our catalogs:

  • a.  Subjective vs. objective (How we feel or respond vs. what is unchanging and true)
  • b.  Indicative vs. imperative (Reminding what Christ has done vs. what we do in response)
  • c.  Celebrational vs. contemplative (both in lyrical content and in musical mood)
  • d.  Individual vs. corporate (I and me vs. us and we)

A warning: many have moralized (or demonized) different categories of songs in recent years, which speaks to both an ignorance of the Psalms as well as church history.  Yes, let’s sing about what God has done and who He is.  But giving language to our response is essential to.  The common notion that all the old songs were rich and godly, and the modern contributions to praise music are empty and man-centered is problematic.  For example, in the hymnals I have collected from the 1800s, the most common first word found in the song titles is “I”.  Balance is key.

Try A Catalog Out

These are only some of the benefits but it’s clear to see that catalogs are a incredibly useful tool for worship leaders.  Create one from scratch or use PCO, but figure out a way to implement a catalog for greater clarity and intentionality in your worship ministry. You can download a sample of one of our catalogs here.  I’ll post next week on how to build a catalog, so watch for that.

What benefits or challenges have you seen?  Comment below.

September 24, 2015 - No Comments!

Song Spotlight: “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted”



Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” was originally written by Thomas Kelly in 1804 from a passage in Isaiah 53.  Kelly wrote over 750 hymns in his day…no small contribution!  He set out to be a lawyer but quickly felt a pull towards vocational ministry and started at an Anglican priest.

Our version has the language modernized a touch, and uses part of a verse as a bridge format to provide some variation in the road-map.

The song is very fitting for communion times in a Sunday service, and the depth and weight lend it to being used in Good Friday type services.  A PCO chord chart is available here for download.  You can buy “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” from the album “Hopefully Broken” on iTunes.

Kevin DeYoung has a helpful write-up on the author as well found here. Let us know if you use this in your worship gathering!

July 08, 2015 - No Comments!

Blocks: Ask The Right Questions


Over the last 17 years, I have had a host of influences in regards to leadership.  I’m thankful that these influences have come from very different “tribes” in the church world, and in some cases, not from church leaders at all. This diversity in perspective is something that’s immensely helpful.  People outside your own camp often ask different questions than you would, and that is incredibly valuable to any leader.

One thing I heard from Andy Stanley years ago, was that you can tell what an organization values, by the questions it asks.  I suspect that this is why one of the most common resources I am asked for is our Sunday Scorecard.  In the midst of rebuilding a worship ministry, it was a great time to revisit that tool, and establish a foundation for what we care about on Sundays.

Below are a few tips in building your own scorecard for Sunday gatherings:

1.  Use your church vision and mission statements to frame the scorecard.

This ties your feedback to how it supports or detracts from the mission you have collectively agreed upon.  I can’t emphasize strongly enough how important this is.  Your volunteers and leaders will create cultural momentum if they know how their task fits inline with the greater vision.  This is not solved by a scorecard alone, but the scorecard is a GREAT place to reinforce that vision.

2.  Be sure to cover every area of a Sunday you want to grow, not just preaching and music.

Sundays are more than a message and some music, so use the scorecard to evaluate and give feedback to other areas that people encounter.  Examples would be: kids ministry, greeting team, hospitality, ushers, etc.

3.  Make sure there is space for both constructive critique and positive affirmation.

Find people who naturally see the wins and also those that can see what needs improvement.  Have them both fill out your scorecard.  Instruct them to be honest and gracious.  It’s essential that you make sure that anyone responsible for the area of ministry discussed is roped into the conversation at some point, and appropriately encouraged/challenged.  It’s helpful to have measured questions (yes/no or scale of 1-5) along with open ended questions for comments and specifics.

4.  Have people in different roles and level of responsibility fill out the scorecard each week.

This is essential because a volunteer will see and hear things through a very different filter on Sunday.  This kind of 360 degree approach ensures a wider perspective and that the leadership stays connected to the front lines of ministry.  Did the sermon make sense to those that weren’t at the church staff meeting where the teaching pastor explained his main point?  What did “non-musicians” think about the set-list?  I’d also encourage you to have a diverse team build the scorecard together to start with.

I hope this is helpful as you think through your own scorecard.  Ask the right questions and you will continue to see the right results.


See a live sample of my scorecard here.  You can see the other resources I have developed here.  If you’d like help developing your own scorecard, or just want better Sundays, contact me for a free coaching call.

May 15, 2015 - No Comments!

Blocks: No Normal Sundays


Last week my wife went all out and made a taco meal unlike any she has attempted.  It was incredible.  I was driving to the church building last Sunday morning down the 405 in the Seattle area and reflected on how Sundays are similar in some ways to the meal we shared.

Sundays are like a family dinner.
You gather together with largely the same people in regular rhythm.  You gather to receive.  Those present all chip-in to make sure the meal happens.  Even though you know how to (and should) feed yourself during the day, in the evening you come expectant that you will leave nourished and there will be something special about gathering around the table.

At the same time, Sundays are not like a family dinner. 
You usually don’t conduct an adoption ceremony between dinner and dessert.  You typically don’t turn from a dinner time story to see a baby delivered in the kitchen.  No one wakes from a coma while the condiments are placed back in the fridge.  And yet, this is the reality of the saints gathered.  Miracles happen.  People are born again.  Someone who has been going through the motions for years finally has the light bulb burn bright.  A marriage in the room comes off the cliff and heads towards health.  Someone longing for community meets a group leader and begins a beautiful friendship.  Sometimes it happens during a sermon or a song, but by God’s unmerited grace these things happen.

The fact is, there are no “normal Sundays”. 
This is helpful for those of us that have played a role in ministry on Sundays for a while.  I’ve led over 1,000 services, which means more than 1,000 times I’ve woken up, got dressed, and showed up to a building, often earlier than my body was willing, to prepare a team of musicians to sing some simple songs over and with people of varying types: people I have cried with, people I have never seen before, people that sing every word, and people that stare at me with arms crossed as though they are actively imagining how to murder me in the parking lot.

When you are on a church staff, you hopefully put a bit of planning into the church calendar year.  In these conversations, you hear seemingly harmless phrases like “peak weekends” or “down time” or “low-attendance Sundays” (here’s looking at you Father’s Day) and while I’d be the first in line to say that planning around these patterns is not only okay, but wise, I’d also say they can build a subtle case for Sundays that don’t matter.  That’s simply not the case.

When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.  1 Corinthians 14
Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Hebrews 10
Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.  Ephesians 5
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Acts 2

The bible’s simple but emphasized language for what Sunday’s should look like should apply to every Sunday we put on for the church (read people) that we serve.  In light of the sheer importance of what happens on Sundays, we should readily accept that there are no throw-away weekends.  Whether you greet at the doors, chase tiny unregenerate humans around, or move the sliders on a piece of equipment so that all gathered can hear the gospel clearly, every Sunday matters.

This post is part of a new series I am writing called “Blocks”.  Because I myself am rebuilding a worship ministry here, it seemed an appropriate time to write these ideas out: for my own clarity, for my team’s understanding, and for your consideration. If you’d like help developing your own scorecard, or just want better Sundays, contact me for a free coaching call.

March 24, 2015 - No Comments!

The Zimmermans Head to Seattle


Executive Summary:

In two weeks, my family will load up our belongings and drive up to “the Eastside” of Seattle, where I will begin a new job as Director of Arts and Communication at Doxa Church under Pastor Jeff Vanderstelt.  We are mourning the loss of the life we’ve known in Reno, but also are deeply excited about this new chapter in the Pacific Northwest.

Note: If you’d like to help, we’re packing up our house and loading things up April 7th and 8th (the Tuesday/Wednesday after Easter) and will need hands on deck for that.  You can email me at with any questions or to request our address.


The Back Story

Fourteen years ago, I walked into a home in suburban northwest Reno.  I was greeted a few steps in the door by a girl named Rachael.  I later learned that her new husband was the leader of the bible study in that house, and that he was a janitor at the sponsoring church.

That room of young adults had more zeal than experience, more passion than plans, and more willingness than wisdom.  And it grew.  We filled that living room, and spilled out into the next room and up the stairs.  We eventually moved to the church because of the humility and wisdom of Pastor Dan Frank.  We didn’t have expectations early on but we grew in numbers very quickly.  We made major transitions from bible study to college group to “church within a church” to a church plant to a multi-site church in an incredibly small amount of time in church world.  It will forever be a resounding sign of God’s grace on my life that I was a part of what happened in those years.

At each major transition, we were exploding in numbers but we also lost people.  Some left because they liked the previous iteration of what Living Stones looked like better and were unwilling to adopt the new one.  Others left because Living Stones was becoming something different that wasn’t what they had signed on for.  And yet others left because they tangibly lost something when transition happened; a relationship, a responsibility, a role…and that was painful to watch.

In those seasons, and over the last 14 years at Living Stones, I learned that transition is necessary, transition is beautiful, and transition is hard.

Transition is necessary.

Healthy things grow, and growth means change.  This is fundamentally true of people, relationships, churches, plants, animals, businesses, and most things spinning on this planet.  As natural as it is, change also can rattle our core and jostle our bearings.

When we started discussing de-centralization (the process of downsizing the central staff and giving autonomy to the 5 different Living Stones churches) in early 2014, there was a small voice in me that said big change was coming.  I didn’t foresee that I would be one of the several staff to be let go due to structural changes and budget crisis last November.

A few weeks later my phone rang and it read “Jeff Vanderstelt”.  Jeff and I had worked together at Acts 29 events, conferences, and training events in Reno in the past.  He mentioned that he wanted me to pray about the possibility of joining his new team in Bellevue, WA as the worship and arts guy at Doxa Church.  Bellevue is across Lake Washington from Seattle and was recently ranked the 2nd best place to live in America.  I told him I’d pray about it, and for us to keep the conversation open.


For the last three months I’ve worked part-time in Reno for a phenomenal leader and a brilliant woman I hold a great deal of respect for, Erica Olsen of OnStrategy.  She graciously agreed to bring me on until I figured out what was next.  I got to travel a bit with her and do video work showcasing some of their clients, including trips to Boston, Ventura, and Juneau (seen below).


While I worked at finding a marketplace job and staying in Nevada, God kept slowly but firmly paving a way for me to stay in vocational ministry.  We knew that staying in ministry would almost certainly mean leaving Reno.  Ministry opportunities across the country popped up, which was a humbling and terrifying process.  I got to meet some great leaders and hear about incredible churches all over, but nothing felt quite right.

Transition is beautiful.

The conversation with Jeff continued.  After months of conference calls, leading worship there, fly-outs spending time with the elders and staff at Doxa, and seeking the wisdom of the Living Stones Elders, we agreed that God was leading our family to accept the position at Doxa. A beautiful unity arose from leaders on both sides of the equation. I’ve been thankful for the ways the LS pastors have come alongside me in a very difficult time.

The opportunity to remain in ministry and join a team like the one at Doxa is and will be a privilege.  The staff is small and scrappy, yet big challenges await us in the next season.  Doxa is roughly the same size in attendance as the downtown Reno Living Stones location, in a pretty incredible facility right in downtown Bellevue.

The Eastside is a very different culture than Reno to be sure. It’s incredibly wealthy and several massive corporations like Microsoft, Amazon, and Costco have headquarters or major operations there.  Seattle is a global city with a ton of racial and cultural diversity.  The picture below was taken in a commons area on the Microsoft campus I toured last month.

I’m thrilled to begin establishing Doxa as a place where Pastor Jeff’s vision for community and real-world Christianity breaks into the lives of musicians and artists.  My hope is that Doxa quickly becomes a people and a place where artists belong.  I will be building bands, overseeing creative efforts, and helping with various things like video projects and social media.  From the perspective of the job description, it really is a perfect fit for my strengths and passions.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to tuck in behind Jeff Vanderstelt. He is a highly relational leader and remarkably gifted in communication and vision.  I’ve been really impressed and encouraged watching how he leads the elders and the church.  He’s transparent on stage, theologically solid, and a joyful man that genuinely wants people to know Jesus.


I have led worship at Doxa a couple of times now and am just beginning to get to know the congregation and the musicians there. There are some very talented people around who love Jesus and want to be a part of the worship and arts ministries moving forward which is incredibly encouraging.




Transition is hard.

We love our city and our church.  Leaving them both will be painful.  My family and I have ever only known Reno together.  My wife and I met on campus at the University of Nevada, and both of my children were born at Renown hospital.  Though I grew up outside San Francisco, I was born less than a mile from the downtown church location.  I’ve traveled to 46 states and believe that people are beginning to realize what has been true for a while…that Reno is truly one of the best places to live.  The revitalization happening here is something we feel connected to.

The relationships we have here make this move the hardest.  My mother recently moved here. My last living grandparent is here.  Kelly’s lifetime friends are here.  The band members that I have been through so much with, live here.  My fishing buddies are here.  And yet we hear God calling us to trust him and leave…and that great things await us.

We will miss the unique things about Reno.  Fishing in Washington is typically a much more involved and expensive endeavor (the nearest trout stream is almost three hours east, on the other side of the Cascades) so I will certainly miss the Truckee River.

The Last Sunday

After what I estimate to be between 1,200 and 1,300 services, I led worship last Sunday for the last time at Living Stones.  Leading those songs on stage was emotionally intense.  At the end of the service, Pastor George (one of the twenty people in the room when I arrived at what would become Living Stones in 2001) told the congregation of our transition, and then the elders prayed for us to send us out.  After service, I spoke with people as they passed along their memories and well-wishes.  While leading on stage was rough, hearing people’s stories and heartfelt gratitude between services was far harder.  I was humbled by the number of people that expressed what a conversation or hospital visit from years ago had meant to them.  That put me into tears.




425 Reasons

We’re ready to fall in love with the Eastside of Seattle and invest our lives as a family in what God is doing there.  We are honored to join the Doxa family and also aware that God wants to do huge things through the people of Doxa. We don’t know how long we’ll do life there but our hope is that it’s a place we can put roots down and watch our kids enjoy the activities available in the Pacific Northwest.  We hope that a year from now, we’ll know the 425 reasons to love the Eastside.


You’ve read my thoughts on the matter, so here is a quick video with the rest of the family talking about what they think about moving.

Donald, Kelly, Oliver, and Harper

March 09, 2015 - No Comments!

Free Worship Leader Resources


I’ve recently added some free tools for worship leaders, including a sample Worship Application (detailing expectations), some Memory Verse Cards for worship volunteers, and a Worship Catalog Balance Tool that is really helpful in rounding out the selection and genre of songs you use on Sundays.  Check it all out over at the Resources page.

For far less that the cost of a typical conference, you can have highly personal and customized worship coaching for 6 months.  Learn more here or request a free coaching call here.

March 02, 2015 - No Comments!

Worship Coaching Slots Now Available


I’m excited to announce that I will be expanding my current worship coaching load in 2015.  If you’re a worship leader who wants to grow in organization, communication (on and off stage), or just need practical help to build your worship ministry, this is a great time to sign upSlots are limited.

The coaching experience involves 2 – 3 coaching appointments per month, either face to face, via Skype, or on the phone. In coaching, distance is not an obstacle. The frequency and duration of coaching are customized to your needs. Most of my coaching relationships go at least 6 months and we use quarterly reviews ensure that your investment is producing results.

Contact me for a free coaching session or get more info here.

November 18, 2014 - No Comments!

New FREE Zimmerman Song from the Verses Project

john 15 artwork

Artwork by Emily Carlton

We’re honored to be included in the talented group of musicians ad artists that have contributed to the Verses Project, a musical collaboration focused on helping people memorize scripture.  It’s free.

Hope you all enjoy it!  I highly recommend subscribing to their email so you get first crack at the new songs coming out.  Let us know your thoughts on the song below.