All Posts in WORSHIP TOOLS

June 22, 2017 - No Comments!

Get Upstream


Just east of my home, the Snoqualmie River meanders for 45 miles through homes, farmlands, two counties, and then feeds into the famous Puget Sound. The river begins in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness way up in the Cascade Mountains. It’s there in the mountains that the source waters run and collide together to form the river before it begins its push down through western Washington.

Most (but not all) of my coaching clients are bi-vocational worship leaders in churches of 500 people of less. They are neck deep in all of the challenges that come along with wearing multiple hats and leading worship while balancing a hundred other things. They want to build great teams and have fun being creative in the local church.

That said, most of them reach out after they are overwhelmed or drowning a bit. This is natural I suppose, similar to how preventative medicine has been scientifically proven to be cheaper and more effective, and yet most of us elect to avoid the doctor’s office until a problem arises with our bodies. I’m no doctor, but I have seen a parallel in the worship leaders I coach.

My favorite clients are those that are trying to prepare in advance for the challenges coming for them. One of these leaders is Sarah. Yes, that’s her real name. Sarah is a delight. Sarah isn’t on staff at a church. She isn’t even in full time vocational ministry. She’s in a small town and has no aspirations of being in a big city.

Sarah is also clear in her calling to grow as a worship leader, so we’ve worked together for the last 6 months around how she can be best equipped for that future. Sarah wanted to get upstream, and learn how to organize, lead, and care for a worship ministry. She’s already grown a ton and now has tangible skills in her pocket that she didn’t a few months ago. I don’t share this story as some kind of humble-brag, but for clarity. Many of the leaders I speak with seem surprised that someone like Sarah makes for a great client. I tell them what I’ll say again now: I’d take a dozen more Sarah’s because she’s getting upstream and preparing herself for what’s ahead. She comes prepared, asks good questions, takes feedback with humility, and follows through on her “assignments”. She’s growing because she’s putting in the work. A few thoughts from her:

“Donald makes long-distance coaching effective…He cares genuinely about my growth as a leader and my growth in my relationship with Christ, with every meeting being centered around the gospel. The coaching has played an integral part in my development as a worship leader and leader. He has helped me to understand how to apply my gifts to serving God’s people through worship and relationship. I appreciate his wisdom, creativity, and insight when it comes to working with a team. I’ve grown as a worshipper, as a worship leader, and am more confident in my identity in Christ because of our time together.”

Sarah has invested in being the leader she wants to be in the future…she’s been pro-active instead of reactive. Be like Sarah. Get ahead of what’s coming. Ask questions of those further down the road than you around how you can grow in the areas of leadership that don’t come natural to you, and how you can leverage the strengths you already have.

Some good “upstream questions”:

-What will my team (up, down, and laterally) need from me in 6-12 months?
-What do I want the worship or arts ministry to look like this time next year?
-What do I need to do in my church to make disciples in the next year?
-Do I have any life stage changes coming (engagement, birth of a child, graduating college) and how can I plan for that?
-What do I want my volunteers and congregation to experience or learn this year?

I love the local church and local church leaders. If you or someone you know would benefit from some one-on-one coaching towards leadership development, organizing and recruiting artists, or growing your worship/arts ministry, let’s chat.

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February 07, 2017 - No Comments!

Silence and Solitude (Part 2)

Last week, I provided a brief introduction to the disciplines of silence and solitude. This week we’ll continue building on that idea, and I’ll unpack a bit of why this element of Christian discipleship is generally neglected if not completely forgone.

So why is it so difficult to get time away? Why do we only typically think to get alone with Jesus in silence when life runs us down completely? Three reasons drive our avoidance of silence and solitude, and they are all powerful deterrents from what brings us life.

WHY IS IT HARD?

1. Distractions
We are addicted to noise, on the outside and the inside. Millennials touch their phones 43 times a day on average. We don’t like to be left alone with our thoughts. The human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to about 8 seconds currently. (Interesting to think about what has happened culturally since in 2000…)

2. Compulsions
Compulsion is every time you choose something urgent over something important. It’s when you spend energy appearing a certain way, instead of being a certain person. Compulsion is the internal “oughts and shoulds”, the feelings of never enough. It’s one more hour of video games, one more unnecessary online purchase, one more hook up. Our busyness is a way to avoid ourselves, God and others. We make endless lists, spinning on what we’ll do next. Always moving, never resting.

3. Confusions
We get confused about our own limitations (namely that we can’t hold the pace most of us try to keep), and confusion about God’s disposition towards us. God is not an old bitter friend, waiting to light you up with his anger and list of wrongdoings when you finally make time to reconnect. He’s not sitting arms-crossed just waiting to let you have it. He loves you, not a future version of you, YOU. NOW. No matter how long it’s been. And so our distractions, and compulsions, and confusions lead us to have tired souls.

Tired souls look like this:
-Inner restlessness, underlying anxiety, or vague nervousness
-emotional weariness
-obsessive thinking
-inner irritability and agitation
-we can’t sit and be quiet
-relationally detached and numb
-immersed in fantasy world, dreaming of escape, or taking sexual risks
-people become tedious
-lack of enthusiasm for life/ministry/devotions
-we become depressed / hopeless
-angry, defensive, and argumentative
-decision-making feels impossible and clouded

WHY IS IT WORTH IT?

With regular silence and solitude the soul becomes refreshed and recalibrated. We begin to live out the day the way the Father intended. This can not be overstated. Below is a brief list of what I have seen happen after regular silence and solitude:

-Freedom from compulsion
-Interior space which is able to hold other spiritual disciplines
-Moving away from constantly seeing your life in reference to how others see you
-Increased clarity on the desires of your heart
-Becoming more adept at listening to and recognizing the voice of God
-Experience the supernatural and mystical side of our faith

Now, you can do silence and solitude in an hour, or a whole weekend, but
the basic elements are the same. Next week, I’ll unpack the four basic parts.

go back to part one // go to part three

I recently spoke at Northwest University on this topic within a series of Ted-talk style sessions around the spiritual disciplines. You can listen here (begins around 45:00). Practical tips on how to do solitude can be found here.
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January 28, 2017 - 2 comments

Silence and Solitude (Part 1)


“A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains
and shattered the rocks before God,
but God wasn’t to be found in the wind;
after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake;
and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire;
and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.”
-1 Kings 19

For a long time, I have worked with artists, musicians, and creatives all over the country to tell the unchanging gospel story in fresh ways. I have surrounded myself with the most talented and dedicated artists I can find. Most of them have been what sociologists call millennials.

Millennials are an interesting bunch. Considering they currently make up 25% of the American population, it’s no wonder people are paying attention. What I love about millenials is that, more than those before them, want their life to matter in substantive ways; to have a clear purpose and make a difference. They sacrifice money and power to achieve their goals faster than their predecessors. That said, one discipline matters more than all the rest in that pursuit of that kind of clarifying purpose (whether you grew up watching Boy Meets World or not). If you want to live a life of calling, and not just wander around, moving from compulsion to compulsion, you must learn and practice silence and solitude.

Silence and solitude are the foundational disciplines that provide spiritual and psychological space for all other disciplines. They are the way by which we face our real selves and enter into the presence of God. The primary means by which you will determine your calling and avoid compulsion, is in SILENCE AND SOLITUDE.

“If you want to live a life of clear calling, and not just wander around, moving from compulsion to compulsion, you must learn and practice silence and solitude.”

Much of what I’ll share in this three part series is informed and guided by spending time with two brilliant men, Jim Cofield and Rich Plass. These two men are pastors of pastors, who work full time in soul care, counseling, writing, and helping leaders around the country be healthy. They wrote the book “The Relational Soul”, and if you want to stay in ministry a long time and be wise beyond your years, read every word of that book.

WHAT IS SILENCE AND SOLITUDE?

Alright, so how are we defining this discipline? Here’s what I use to frame it up:

Silence and solitude is the act of freeing ourselves from the distraction of people and tasks and words so as to give ourselves completely to God alone with all of our being.

Solitude is an intentionally alone place, not to hide but to listen.
… it is Jesus in the solitary place (Mark 1:35)
… it is Elijah at Mt. Horeb
… it is John on the Island of Patmos, shunned by his own community
… it is Paul imprisoned wondering what to do next

Silence is where you find the real you.
Solitude distances us from the fake version of us we have made for others.
…a place where we put down our curated and filtered Instagram lives,
….a place where we are more honest before God without having to perform
…..a place where we see that our identity is a gift and not earned.

This is true of everyone, but especially those in public ministry, we’re often on display, and we become adaptive to what others expect even though that may not always be the true us. In solitude, God does deep work without any pretense of
being something other than our true selves. In solitude you ask God to be
merciful and show you the REAL condition of your soul.

You are not the fringe.
Without solitude we mistake the fringe for the center and think “that’s the real me!” We become addicted to maintaining that fringe and that image. It’s impossible to slow down in your life if you are constantly servicing that fringe version of yourself. Keeping the fringe from falling apart is an insanely tiring and consuming activity.

Silence isn’t just environmental.
it’s NOT just a condition outside of me … it’s state of my soul before God. Silence frees me from having to say something. Silence intensifies the solitude. They go hand in hand.

“Solitude doesn’t make God love you more, but it might let you see more of God’s love.”

Silence and Solitude are not…
They aren’t just daydreaming or simply emptying the mind. They aren’t an attempt to become more spiritual or the same as meeting God, but certainly an environment to do so. Solitude doesn’t make God love you more, but it might let you see more of God’s love.

Next week, we’ll look at why silence and solitude are very difficult for most of us. Three specific challenges keep us from this rhythm and knowing what they are makes a huge difference. Read part two, and have the courage to step into the silence and hear what God’s love and mercy sound like.

go to part two

I recently spoke at Northwest University on this topic within a series of Ted-talk style sessions around the spiritual disciplines. You can listen here (begins around 45:00). Practical tips on how to do solitude can be found here.

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January 24, 2017 - No Comments!

Jesus Is the All-Wise

 

Most worship leaders I know are balancing a lot in their lives. Working full or part-time, going to school, church activities, touring, families, kids, travel, etc. Just getting through Sunday can feel like the win. This dictates how we as leaders approach liturgy at times.

When I think through the liturgy for the upcoming Sunday each week, based on margins, I frequently reach for an established resource; a creed, a prayer, a psalm etc. On occasion, I feel like I need to spend the time to write out myself what I want our people to know and hear.

This past Sunday, we looked at God as the source of wisdom, as we walked through part two in our series in the book of James. I wrote and then read this confessional prayer with the congregation. Feel free to use it if it’s helpful in your context.

 

LEADER: When our days are darkened, and trouble surrounds us.
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When others sin against us, speaking unkindly, betraying, or minimizing us:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When we grasp for what we falsely believe is rightfully ours, and attempt to control or manipulate our circumstances or relationships:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When we isolate and hide from community, in an attempt to protect and defend ourselves:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When we kneel before Fear, paying homage to an abusive king that robs us of life, and neglect you the True king that brings life:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

LEADER: When we receive your blessings with entitled hearts, recognizing the gifts but not the giver:
CONGREGATION: Your wisdom is true and right. You are the all-wise God.

CLOSING:
For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
Proverbs 2:6

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May 16, 2016 - No Comments!

Not Strong Enough

notSTRONG

One of my favorite parts of leading worship in a local church is getting to articulate what God is doing in my heart for the congregation to process and identify with. The hopeful and messy parts, strewn together. It’s helpful for me because it forces me to remind myself constantly that I am a sheep before I am a shepherd. I believe it to be helpful for those in the room because they are given an out from the pretending and posturing that everything in their own chest is fine and clean.

aweBOOK

Last Sunday, I read an excerpt from Paul Tripp’s new book “Awe” that I recently picked up. I found the following section helpful in setting up our worship time together:

“As it is true of a street sign, so it is true of every jaw-dropping, knee weakening, silence-producing, wonder-inspiring thing in the universe. The sign is not the thing you are looking for. No, the sign points you to what you are looking for.”

This is a perfect description of how the good things in our lives that we commonly elevate to supreme over our lives (i.e. work success, influence, romance, family, recreation) can actually redirect our affection to God rather than replace it. Replacing God is something we’re quite good at, even if it is only our own perception change and not a positional change. It’s a perfectly understandable and flawed habit we humans have.  We want to place our hope in something we can wrap our arms around or pay for online. The tangible feels trustworthy.

Simply put, the weight of our hopes and hearts can not be held up by other things. It just weighs too much. These smaller things are not strong enough.

Thankfully, He is.

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April 05, 2016 - No Comments!

Confession: He Provides

confession1

 

Here is a little something I wrote for last Sunday as we looked at Jesus’ unexpected provision in the book of Mark:

A Prayer of Confession For Repentance

We forget that you are over all, and love us dearly. We try to take things into our own hands instead of trusting you.
Response: The Lord is good and provides for his children. 

 //

We store our treasure and carry anxiety that we will go without tomorrow, even though our yesterdays are packed full of evidence that you care for us.
Response: The Lord is good and provides for his children. 
 //
Our hearts are full of worry when we lack and full of pride when we have. We take credit for the things we have and forget that even our abilities, intelligence, and work ethic have been given by you.
Response: The Lord is good and provides for his children.
//

January 05, 2016 - No Comments!

Finding New Music

happyNEW

Happy New Year.

2015 was a year full of challenges and transitions for sure, but also a time for growth and hope. I’ve been in my new position here on the Eastside for 8 months, and we turning a few corners in some of our biggest challenge areas. We’ve launched an arts ministry, auditioned and activated 25 music team volunteers and overhauled the tech ministry.

I’m often asked about where to find new music…and I should note that it’s usually not just referring to songs useful for corporate worship.  This post from Product Hunt will get your wheels spinning and some fresh content in your playlist. The benefits of listening to many different genres of music can not be overstated. It’s fuels our creativity, teaches us how to exegete our culture, and helps us develop our craft (albeit mostly in method and not in content).

2016 is going to be an important year in the lives of your leadership. I have a couple of coaching slots open for the spring, so if you’d like to grow as a worship leader, contact me and we can discuss what would best serve your needs.

All the best to you and your loved ones as we dive into another season of God’s faithfulness to us and the rest of his kids.

September 29, 2015 - 1 comment.

Blocks: Use A Song Catalog

blockSERIES3

(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.

July 08, 2015 - No Comments!

Blocks: Ask The Right Questions

blockSERIES2

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

blockSERIES

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.