All Posts in Acts 29

March 2, 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.

May 20, 2014 - No Comments!

Worship Ministry Essentials – Part 2: DNA

Any healthy forest has trees of different sizes.

Seedlings from decades past eventually grow tall and help the legacy of the forest live on by dispersing seeds of their own. If the distribution of new life stops, the forest has begun to die.

Strategies, methods, beliefs, and target audience make up a local church’s culture or DNA. Shelves of leadership books address the importance of having the right DNA in your organization. Worship ministry is no different.

DNA can encompass the “why” and the “how” of ministry. Some how-DNA will change with time such as music styles or methods. Other why-DNA will remain constant such as the centrality of Jesus (Galatians 1:6–9). Even though how-DNA may change, it’s still essential to define and defend what you want it to be now.


Replicators, Not Receivers

The worship stage is an essential platform for communicating DNA to the church, so teach those on stage to be replicators (think big trees) of your DNA, not just receivers of it (seedlings). Replicators are those who don’t just get the task done, but explain the vision behind what’s happening adding leadership momentum and coverage. Replicators lead their sphere of influence in seeing the greatness of Christ by doing what God has called your church to do.

Vision leaks (every 30 days according to some leadership gurus) so rain vision continually. People forget the why of your ministry long before they forget how to meet the expectations. Without why-DNA, leaders are left with the imperative to obey but without the truth that empowers obedience (2 Peter 1:3). This is dangerous to the soul and the ministry.

"Fresh vision rooted in the gospel helps minimize attrition and collapses."

If you don’t create and manage your church’s DNA, you’ll waste valuable energy redirecting and repairing rather than progressing. 


Replicating the Right DNA

1. Decide which hills you will die on.

What doctrines and philosophies are non-negotiable? Don’t drench your worship volunteers with different vision each week. Land on the core things you want them to live and breathe. Be careful of assessing participation in some areas but not others (e.g. valuing a band member’s musical abilities while overlooking a lack of a servant-like heart).

2. Start at the front door.

Make sure volunteers understand what’s important to you from the very start.

Whether you have a formal audition process or not, make sure everyone in the forest you oversee knows the DNA. Anyone putting roots down needs to be briefed with a chance to ask questions.

3. Create touch-points that make sense.

Establish a system of touch-points (meetings, hang-outs, videos, emails, blogs, etc.) between you and key leaders at regular intervals where you intentionally include DNA conversations (see worksheet below). Every system has a shelf life, so ask trusted leaders when a system needs patching, and when it needs an overhaul. Keller’s article on how communication is affected by church size is pertinent here.

4. Assess current leaders.

If you hear someone say something on stage or in a conversation that doesn’t reflect your DNA, pull them aside privately and help them understand why what they said may lead to confusion. Ask them to repeat back the “why-DNA” and “how-DNA” in their own words.

5. Call the fire department before the forest burns down.

Many people won’t confess that they have lost sight of the vision or that they are wrestling with sin until something explodes because of a lack of understanding of the gospel (Proverbs 28:13). Frequently invite everyone in the forest you oversee to say something when smoke appears, and teach them what smoke looks like (loss of traction in victory over sin, burnout, and relational breakdowns).

6. Don’t make DNA a weapon.

Your church’s DNA is likely a mix of biblical mandates, opinions, and specific callings for your church body. Don’t encourage (explicitly or implicitly) the bashing of other camps that do things differently. Good things are happening that aren’t your things, and that’s ok.

7. Be a replicator yourself.

If your leaders don’t understand their role or can’t articulate why you do things the way you do them then you haven’t done your job. Pray for God’s leading in establishing your church’s DNA. Invite the Spirit to lead changes to methods when needed. Work hard at equipping and caring for the whole forest, new seedlings and established trees alike.

Download the Resource

This is a downloadable PDF that includes an outline for leading a meeting or conversation covering DNA issues and a worksheet for developing your ability to connect how-DNA to why-DNA. Customize the resources to fit your context and address the DNA elements most important to your ministry.

May 17, 2014 - No Comments!

Worship Auditions

Every college student knows it.

Some professors are all about the test. Others prepare you for real life. The problem with “teaching to test” is it inaccurately assesses the skills or critical thinking required in the real world. This is why some students exit their programs of study with high marks, but not much to offer their employer or even church. Great educational programs combine academic study with real-world application. 

Music auditions in the local church face similar challenges. The audition process should test for what will be expected in practices, worship gatherings, and the musician's relationships with other volunteers. Many churches don’t have a regular audition process at all, and others just search for a recipe of what's popular on the Christian scene.  Before you can hold an audition, you have to find the musicians in your midst that might sign up to serve.  


How Do You Attract and Audition Musicians?

Artists are like ants. Ants send out scouts to scope out new territory and report back their findings. If you squash the scouts or have nothing for them to sink their teeth into, they move on. Identify and create opportunities in your church for musicians. If your church has no platform for artists to grow, create, and contribute, then don’t expect them to stick around. Music is not the purpose of the church, but it can be immeasurably effective in communicating the message that is the purpose of the church, as evidenced by both the word of God and church history.

It’s essential to appoint someone who can be leader and liaison to musicians in your community. When selecting a leader over musicians, pick someone who understands the gospel, artistry, and the specific calling of your local church. Musicians should be held to the same standards as other leaders, but know they typically have their own culture—including language, behaviors, motivators, strengths, and weaknesses.

"Worship is more than music, thus auditions should cover more than musicianship."

Have your current music-types watch for places in your community where musicians gather and participate with them. Ask the lead pastor to talk about the specific music needs on stage in services, and ask people in your congregation to spread the word and suggest to your leaders anyone they know who might fit the bill. Frequently, there are godly and gifted musicians in the room that won’t beat your door down for a tryout. 


What Are the Qualifying Marks of a Person on Your Stage Leading Worship?

Intentionally create tests for those joining the worship ministry that simulate their ability to do what current members do, on and off stage. Here are some key questions that your audition process should address:

  • Are they worshipers of Jesus off-stage? (1 John 5:2)
  • Can they learn a whole set of music in the time period allowed?
  • Do they know how to play with other musicians?
  • What is the time commitment? 6 months? A year?
  • Do they have a history of serving and giving?
  • Are they involved in community? (Known by others, confessing sin, etc.)
  • How do they respond to authority in their life? (Hebrews 13:17)

If you have a formal music education, don’t make the audition so tough that qualified folks will get dissuaded from serving in their area of gifting. Most volunteers don’t need to know about atonality, serialism, or a Hungarian minor scale, so stick to what is pertinent. That said, teach your volunteers music theory basics that help them serve your church better.

Sometimes leaders avoid hard questions because they fear losing a volunteer. Folks in smaller churches often say bigger churches are afforded “luxuries” in sifting through myriads of musicians. As discussed in this post, deciding between heart and talent in a volunteer is a mistake regardless of church size. Worship is more than music, thus auditions should cover more than musicianship.


Who Makes the Final Decisions?

Whether you have a worship leader reporting to a staff pastor or a worship pastor on staff, make sure the one overseeing the ministry is involved with auditions. Determining the specifics of assessing musicianship and spiritual maturity is ultimately their responsibility.

When establishing policies and procedures, invite input from your lead pastor and elders on what they desire to see in your musicians. Whether you use open or private auditions (described in detail in the downloadable resources), always use panel feedback. Pick a panel that understands what music works now and what could work in your context. This provides a balanced perspective and makes it harder for the auditioner to feel wounded by a specific person. Make sure band or team leaders affected by the auditions are present for feedback too.

Lastly, auditions can be an incredibly effective litmus test of idolatry. Be available to address and shepherd those that discover idols in their own hearts during the audition process. If you build a comprehensive audition process for worship volunteers, you’ll improve your ability to call in the godly and gifted that God has brought you to serve his people.

Download the Resource

May 13, 2014 - No Comments!

Bands vs. Teams

Throughout our Acts 29 church network, worship ministries are typically driven by one of two models: the band model and the team model.

In the band model, a group of musicians work together consistently. Your "A" band has the same people playing together whenever they are scheduled.

In the team model, a single worship leader works with various musicians based on scheduling, and may lead an large number of permutations of drummers, bassists, pianists, etc.

Below are simply generalized observations from both our ministry experience, those we’ve coached, and those we have learned from in both models.  We’ve used each model for at least 10+ years so we’ve seen how things work in the short run and the longer benefits.  It should be noted that we currently have churches using each model.  Other factors in your context may affect how applicable this list is for you.

Band Model - Pros

1.  Stylistic diversity.

If the same leader is leading different teams, there isn’t going to be much difference stylistically, because the leader will bring one genre, background, personal preference, etc.  My iTunes library looks very different than the other band leader’s libraries.

2.  Equip more leaders.

Every band needs a leader, so the band model offers opportunity for leaders to step up and run their own band.  If one guy is leading every weekend there isn't a consistent place for the up-and-coming leaders to get reps.

3.  Increased volunteer ownership.

We’ve seen greater buy-in and creativity in the band model.  Band volunteers are more likely to write songs and work on new arrangements for the congregation. 


4.  Helpful for multi-site.

We assign bands to a specific church, and in general, they are expected to do life there.  That said, we want each church raising up their own musicians.  It is worth noting that when a church starts out, the team model is typically the only practical option until a critical mass of musicians are found and equipped.


5.  More volunteers get to participate.

The band model means more people will participate in a typical multi-service church.  One band can cover the morning gatherings and one band can cover the evening gatherings. A team leader would have to run multiple practices to accomplish this.  Additionally, this breadth becomes hugely helpful in a multi-site church.


6.  Protects leaders.

Most worship leaders aren’t wired or designed to lead every Sunday for the long haul.  Most can do it for a season, but not sustain passion and quality over a long period of time.  Bands help break that up into a good rhythm of leading from stage and “leading” from the floor.


7.  Deeper relationships between volunteers.

Because folks are playing together more often, they will naturally have deeper relationships (and more conflict that leads to sanctification and depth in their relationships).  The band members at our church do life together outside of practice, in part because of the consistency in working together.


8.  Congregational fit.  

Because bands are assigned to a church and particular services, you gain the ability to match bands (think style and flavor) with the services who will be best served by that band’s style and abilities.  Think about who is in the room at each of your services.  Would this band work for the families in the morning services or the college students in the evening? 

Team Model - Pros


1.  Scheduling the ministry is simpler.

Replacing an individual (assuming you have multiple musicians for each position) is easier than swapping out an entire band when schedule conflicts arise.  Teams tend to last longer because they don’t unravel when a member moves or steps down from worship ministry.


2.  Less entitlement.

Because they have less of a sense of “my ministry, my band, or my spot” team volunteers don’t push back as much when change is needed because they are used to a rotating cast of co-musicians.   
Note:  This has been problematic with the band model, primarily because people resist breaking off deeper relationships.  While this to be expected, it's important that whatever model you use, the win is defined by what is best for the church, not just the musicians on stage.


3.  Quality control/consistency is easier to achieve.

The quality (or lack thereof) on Sundays will be more consistent since the same man or woman is leading.  In the band model, quality can fluctuate greatly depending on which band leader is leading.

4.  Great if you have limited leaders.

You can’t have a band or team without a qualified leader.  Never try to build a band/team before you have a trusted, tested, godly leader to own, lead, and shepherd that band/team.
  If your church has one leader that can carry the room on Sundays, use teams to staff different weekends.


5.  Easier to recruit individual musicians/vocalists.

We've found that the “band model” subtly communicates to the musician not yet involved, that you don’t need any more volunteers.  This of course is never true.  This effect can be minimized by actively recruiting in gatherings.


6.  Congregational familiarity.

Typically those using the team model will end up with fewer leaders doing the heavy lifting, which means it's easier for the congregation to feel connected to the worship leader(s).  If you rotate a different leader or band each week, you can create an atmosphere of constantly auditioning the worshippers on stage with the congregation adjusting and playing judge.


Discipleship considerations.

Team leaders will typically invest their time discipling the musicians that rotate through their teams.  Band leaders will focus on their band.  A worship pastor overseeing multiple bands or teams will need to strategically think through who they invest in.  Remember, every leader has a saturation point on how many real disciples they can have. 

We hope this summary is helpful in deciding whether the band or team model will serve your ministry best.  Leave other benefits or disadvantages you have experienced below in the comments.

April 30, 2014 - 3 comments

Lead The Church Setlists

We're halfway through the Lead The Church event here in Reno.  It's been incredible to hang with with leaders from all over the United States and hear about what they are doing in the trenches.

Here's the songs we have played and are playing for the event.


1. Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted (words by Thomas Kelly, arrangement by Zimmerman)
2. Rejoice (Dustin Kensrue)
3. Absent From Flesh (Brooks Ritter, Sojourn)
4. God Undefeatable (Austin Stone Worship)

1. Crown Him With Many Crowns (words by Godfrey Thring, arrangement by Passion)
2. Doxology (words by Thomas Ken, arrangement by Zimmerman)
3. I Need You (Zimmerman)


1. Rejoice (Dustin Kensrue)
2. Grace Alone (Dustin Kensrue) / All the Poor and Powerless (David Crowder Band)
3. Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted (words by Thomas Kelly, arrangement by Zimmerman)
4. My Soul Knows (Zimmerman)

1. Nothing but the Blood (dub-step arrangement by Zimmerman)
2. The Forgiven - Psalm 32 (Zimmerman)
3. Absent From Flesh (Brooks Ritter, Sojourn

April 9, 2014 - No Comments!

Lead The Church 2014

Ever have a hard time organizing the artists in your church?  Ever wonder how to build solid worship bands for your Sunday gatherings?  Ever wanted to focus the artwork in your church around the teaching series?

I'm pleased to announce that I will be covering these topics and more as I lead a break-out session at the upcoming "Lead The Church" conference held in Reno, NV.  It's free.  In a sea of conferences this one focuses on practical help, not just big ideas.  Did I mention it costs nothing to attend?

More details and registration can be found here.  See you there!

January 31, 2014 - No Comments!

Worship Ministry Essentials – Part 1: The Flapper

For the last eight months my wife and I have fallen asleep each night to the sound of our bathroom toilet emptying slowly and filling again.  It's amazing how a toilet bowl acts as an amplifier for sound, and how much sound can come from a slow, steady drip.

The only reason I didn't repair it eight months ago, was because I falsely believed it would mean I would have to replace the whole toilet, which would entail ripping up most of our bathroom.  That was a project I wasn't financially or emotionally ready to dive into.

I am increasingly convinced that one of the fundamental issues beneath many of the conflicts in worship ministry (and the church at large) is that we all frequently respond with surprise when things get difficult relationally.  Despite what we know about ourselves (that we have mixed motives for everything), what we know about humanity (that we are born with brokenness), and what we know about sanctification (it's a crawl on a good day)1, we still are shocked when conflict arises or a ministry relationship goes sideways.  

You may have noticed that we musicians and artists can be a unreliable, self-absorbed, and sensitive bunch.  This makes good soil for an emotional outburst or a sharp exchange at your next rehearsal.

Some of the best advice I was given heading into marriage was "to keep short accounts."  This means handling conflict as soon as possible in a godly fashion so that it doesn't have time to fester, and grow into something bigger and heavier.  For those that aren't a pain in the neck like me, prone to stirring the pot just to keep things interesting, you avoid conflict because you believe the lie that if you don't make eye contact, the problem will grow bored and go away.  

Here's the thing.

Bitterness doesn't wear a watch.  It's content to hang out as long as you give it free rent.  Reconciling with a worship volunteer can be hard work that costs some time and emotional energy.  That said, you find out what you really believe about the gospel when someone wounds you. 

"Bitterness doesn't wear a watch."

Like any team, you can't have a healthy worship ministry unless you have a culture of gospel-centered conflict resolution.  If you're the leader, you set the tone for this.  Often, the most important thing you do as a leader, is how you treat someone after they blow it.  

Bottom line: if you do life together on your worship team or band long enough, someone is going to hurt you, upset you, and possibly wound you.  What if instead of acting surprised when this happens, we instead were committed to seeing each other in light of the good news we already believe about ourselves?  Seek peace.2  Apologize and own it when you misstep or misspeak.  Don't let thoughts about the worst case scenario arrest you from finding a good time to talk it out.  

If Jesus really paid for it all, then believe that about yourself and the one you find yourself irritated with or hurt by.3  If you need some time to gather your thoughts and repent of your selfishness then take it...but first commit to talking things out in the near future.  Fixing a small rift early always beats crossing a huge chasm later.

"You find out what you really believe about the gospel when someone wounds you."

It's amazing how doing ministry together acts as an amplifier for our character, and how much damage can be done from a slow, steady drip of unforgiveness.

After watching nine seconds of a video on YouTube, I saw that the leak was probably an aging "flapper".  The swap took $7 and two minutes.  I am sleeping better, the water bill is lower, and now my only regret is that I didn't solve this eight months ago.  You might sleep better too if you gather the courage to step out and reconcile your conflict today.

1. Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:23, Psalm 143:2, 2 Cor 3:18
2. Roman 14:19
3. 2 Cor 5

January 18, 2014 - No Comments!

Stripping Things Down

Many churches are led faithfully in worship every Sunday by a single leader or dedicated duo.  For those of us leading with a standard 4 or 5-piece or those attempting to best Hillsong United's stage population of 27, stripping things down to a simpler configuration can be really helpful.  Below you'll find both the advantages to doing so, as well as some tips to make it work.  Let's start with the perks:

1.  An opportunity for rest.
This is true especially in contexts when a few musicians carry the lion's share of responsibility for musical worship in your church.  Give them a break.  Send them to another church in town to observe and learn.  Kick them out of town with their spouse.  Break up their routine of rising early, doing a sound check, and running a marathon with you every Sunday.

2.  An opportunity for teaching.
An acoustic set is a great time to teach that worship is not about style, instrumentation or volume.  Lovingly remind your people that remembering and adoring Christ and celebrating His work through active participation is the win for Sundays (as opposed to hearing their favorite song, or just enjoying the band).

3.  An opportunity for variety.
Changing things up a bit can be life giving for you if you're feeling excited about Jesus but bored with your presentation.  The instrumentation and size of band has nothing to do with whether worship happens or not, but mixing things up can still be a good thing for you, your team, and the congregation.   

"Remind your people that remembering and adoring Christ and celebrating His work through active participation is the win for Sundays."


Now that we've touched on some perks, here's a short list of things to help make the stripped down set work.  I would note that if the skill level of your players are through the roof, you have some more flexibility in these things...but I'm guessing that's probably not your scenario.

1.  Ditch the instrumentals and the mega-chorus.
Often the instrumentals, bridge or a repeated chorus on a studio recording make full use of all the instruments and dynamics afforded a 4 or 5 piece band.  Think through which parts of the arrangement all but require a full band, and then simply remove those parts or simplify your arrangement.  If you opt to simplify, listen for the melody lines (vocal or instrumental) and try to keep those intact.  Additionally, long instrumentals sound empty/uninteresting when it's just an acoustic guitar and piano, so use this as a time to really highlight the voices of the congregation and the singing parts.
Ex: If there is an 8-bar instrumental after the chorus, skip it and go right into the next verse.

2. Knock it down a step.
Worship leaders should always be listening for whether a song is in a "congregationally friendly" key, but this is vitally important when simplifying the band.  I suspect it's because generally people will meet you half-way when a full band is playing over them, but since they can hear themselves 100% of the time during an acoustic set, key selection becomes even more important.  I've moved a song in an acoustic set down two full steps when the full-band version is near the top of what we're comfortable playing in a worship setting.
Ex: We play "Sweetness of Freedom" in C with the band (the recorded key) but in Ab when it's just an acoustic trio.

3.  Tie a rock on top of your keyboardist's left hand.
Everyone needs to think through what musical space is occupied by the others usually on stage, and play their instruments accordingly.  Without a bass player, it's a good idea to have the piano player (if you are using one) play more heavy handed on the lower end of things.  This gives some guts to your simplified arrangements.

Hope these tips help you out the next time you cut things back and step on stage.  Till next time.

January 9, 2014 - 3 comments

Worship Resources Pt 6: Catalogs


When worship leaders reach out for 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 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 our Reno location.  Catalogs differ between our 5 churches, and we tend to roll several songs forward each quarter.

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

1.  It's helpful for your people.
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 different categories of songs in recent years, which speaks to both an ignorance of the Psalms as well as church history.  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.

2.  It's helpful for those you are trying to reach.
Every church has its own culture, and the music is part of that culture.  When a new person walks through your doors they will not know the songs you use, which is to be expected, but you can make it easier for them to join in after a few weeks if you use a catalog to limit the sheer volume of content.  We say, "a guest should recognize several songs if they spend a month with us".

3.  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 for another post on 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 same can be said for planning services.

4.  It's helpful for you.
Every worship leader knows that you have a certain number of songs you 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 music sheet 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.

"A guest should recognize several songs if they spend a month with us."

Since a catalog limits the number of songs you play, assuming you go through at least portion of your catalog at practice means you also limit the time that has passed since you have played everything in your catalog.  We play our whole catalog every 3 weeks or so.  That means it's never been more than 2 week since we played a song we are using for this quarter.  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.

These are only some of the benefits but it's clear to see that catalogs are a incredibly useful tool for worship leaders.  Type one up yourself 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.

Anything we missed?  Comment below.