I work a very public job where it can feel at times like you are in a fishbowl. It’s not a terribly bad thing, but as the Health and Wellness Director for a large YMCA, I know that people are listening to my conversations with other members, staff, etc, and it is something that I need to be aware of as I lead others at work.

Worship leading is an up front thing as well. Just last week, I really noticed something that some people were doing as I was leading worship.  They were watching me! And our screen for words is off to the right, so most people are looking at that.  Now I could totally Jesus Juke at this point and say something about how we need to become smaller, which is totally true, but the reality in our services is that not everyone is going to have eyes closed, with hands raised, lost in worship. I have noticed that younger people, teenagers, kids, will often times be looking right at the worship leader.

This made me think about what I was doing as I was leading worship.  Was I outwardly showing what was going on in my heart? For better or worse? If we didn’t hit that transition well, was that coming through in a look of frustration, or was I prepared enough to be able to just worship the Lord and have that love for Jesus come through in a visual way.

Have you ever seen someone for the first time, watched them for a little bit, and just knew they loved Jesus? Wow, that is what I want to come through as we lead worship!

I can remember one time a number of years ago someone telling me at church that computers were of the devil.” Wow”, I thought,  no wiggle room there. Of course, we had switched over from the transparencies on the projector to powerpoint on the laptop, and were probably having issues that day. But I think he was being serious more or less. Basically saying that because of all the bad things that are on the internet or how some people think that the mark of the beast will be in a microchip, etc. then it was best to stay away from anything that had to do with computers.

So what’s a wise worship leader to do? Go with the Amish themed worship set or an experience that rivals the best Pink Floyd show?

The following from techsteward.net gives us some good principles to go by in regards to technology. And I think it can apply to a lot of things that are of this world and are not inherently sinful (God made it and then we screwed it up) but can be redeemed by the grace of God. The four principles go by pretty fast, so don’t miss them. Here they are:

“He begins with four biblical principles. First, God created technology. He made the physical elements like silicon that we use to make digital devices. He made the forces of electricity and magnetism that allow technology to work. And he made human minds and gave them the creativity to build computers, cell phones and iPads.

Second, because God created technology, it is not inherently sinful; instead (principle three) it has many good uses—including bringing BreakPoint to you every day. Finally and tragically, Murray notes,technology has been abused because we are sinners.”

Have you ever thought about some of the stuff we say as Christians to one another that sound perfectly normal to us but to someone who isn’t around “church culture”  it can sound kind of strange? I have heard this referred to as “Christianese” and we can easily use language that means one thing to us, but sounds totally foreign to someone else.

For example, the other day in the office I made a reference to going to worship practice later in the evening and someone that overheard me said, “You have to practice worship? What does that look like?”

What are some of the things we say that would make no sense to the “world?” Have you ever had this experience?

Being organized is a good thing for a worship team. Taking time to plan out a worship set is very important as you pray, listen to that still, small voice, and go with the songs you feel like you are being led to do.  Sometimes, themes emerge in planning, and sometimes they emerge during the actual service, and sometimes you don’t know why God gave you those songs, but He knows. So while planning is important, communicating that plan to a worship team is valuable as well.

Sometimes surprises are good and exciting, and sometimes you wish you had a little warning ahead of time.  Just showing up to practice with a list of songs or not having songs at all most likely falls into the category of surprises that your worship team will quickly grow weary of.  I know that sometimes worship leaders might change songs during a set or on Sunday morning, depending on how he or she is being led by the Holy Spirit, but in most cases when I hear of leaders doing this kind of thing, they will still rehearse songs within a set structure and then they have freedom within that structure to follow the guiding of the Holy Spirit. So what tools do we use to communicate to our team?

One really popular online planning tool that I have had experience with in the past is http://www.planningcenteronline.com. This online planning site is really popular and for good reason.  It is internet based and password protected, so it can be accessed anywhere, and as an administrator the leaders in various ministries in the church can use it to communicate with their team about who is available to serve, the song lists, the service plans, it hosts mp3’s of songs so that team members can listen and practice along, team members can click whether they are available or not for certain Sunday’s, etc. The list goes on. This is a great tool if you have multiple worship team members or worship bands that you need to communicate with and schedule. But of course, it costs money!

So for our purposes as a smaller sized church with a small but growing worship team, I have had good success with the planning tool at http://www.lifewayworship.com. This site has a handy service planning tool, which will allow you to pick out songs, drop and click different service elements in, and it will add up service length time. It gives Scripture references for all the songs, which I like alot, and although I rarely use this, it has a Song Mapping feature, which lets you move around verses, choruses, bridges, etc. so you can hear what various arrangements sound like. Another great, great feature of lifewayworship is they have sheet music for $1.49 a song. That is a great price! Most online sheet music sites are $4.99 or up for a single song. We really like the full arrangements with the bass parts instead of just the lead sheets which are easier to come by, so for us, the sheet music price is great.

O.k. this next part is a little technical, but I use another free online tool called CutePDF writer, which acts as a printer and takes whatever document you send to your printer and turns it into a pdf file that you can save. With the service plan that I have created at lifewayworship, I just click print, select CutePDF writer as my printer and now the service plan is saved as a pdf document. I can email this out to the worship team a few days before our practice, along with pdf files of our songs and they can see what is coming up. If a song is new I can include a link to a YouTube video of the song and they can listen to it that way.

By the time we practice on Wednesday night, everyone knows the set list, they have printed out the songs if they don’t have them already, and they have even listened to the new ones on YouTube. Of course, it helps to have a worship team that is really, really good about being prepared for practice! Ours is beyond great in that regard!

Rory Noland has written a book that I’ve heard a lot about called “The Heart of the Artist“.  While I don’t necessarily consider myself a really artsy or creative type, I do think that there is an artistic element to a time of worship and that as creatures created in the image of an infinitely creative God, there is something deep within us all that desires to create. We just create in different ways.

Besides the obvious example in writing worship songs, I often see creativity in how the flow of a worship set and how the entire worship service goes together. When everything fits together, a worship service is a beautiful harmony of congregational participation, song selection, Scripture reading, sermon, giving, fellowship, prayer, and ministry. All to the glory of God. It’s a marvelous thing to see the Holy Spirit bringing together your efforts of creativity, along with His perfect love, and mixing the seemingly different elements together into one smooth flowing river of purpose and meaning. Honestly, for me as a worship leader, being present when God takes my feeble efforts and ties them with others and creates a glorious time of worship and revels truth to us; there is nothing more satisfying or confirming than that. I love it!

Check out what Rory has to say about the “worshiping artist”, taken from Chuck Fromm’s blog.

I adopted the term “worshiping artist” partly because the label “Christian artist” has proven inadequate if not altogether confusing when discussing Christians in the arts. I agree that the term should be inclusive so as to include both professionals and amateurs, those who serve inside the church as well as outside. However, I do suggest we limit the term to those who have artistic gifts. All human beings have a capacity for creativity because we’re made in the image of a divinely creative God, but that doesn’t mean we’re all artistic. The Old Testament refers to the artists as “skillful ones” (Exodus 28:3 and 36:1-2). So an artist is someone who has an artistic skill and, therefore, does something artistic whether it be music, dance, drama, poetry, prose, video, film, audio, etc. If you do anything artistic, you’re an artist, even if you don’t consider yourself particularly “artsy”… And it doesn’t matter whether one is gifted prodigiously or nominally. In the parable of the talents, one is given five talents, another three, and yet another just one. The point is we are called to steward whatever gifts and abilities God has bestowed upon us.

I also like the emphasis on worship that the term “worshiping artist” carries. As you are well aware, we all worship something or someone. The danger for many artists is that we tend to worship our art, our latest work, and/or ourselves. The worshiping artist, therefore, is someone who does his or her art as a deliberate act of worship to the Triune God. As you eloquently put it, the worshiping artist is uniquely gifted and stirred up to do God’s work. You are also right on to suggest that servanthood plays a vital role in the discussion. The worshiping artist is intent on serving the Lord, the congregation/audience, and finally, his or her art. So the questions every worshiping artist needs to ask include:

  1. What has God gifted me to do?
  2. How can I do it skillfully, with excellence? (Or, how can I continue to grow in my skills?)
  3. Who is my audience?
  4. How can I better serve my audience/congregation?
  5. How can I glorify God in the process?

So those are some thoughts off the top my little sunburned head. I’m very excited about you devoting an issue of Worship Leader to this topic. I think it’s long overdue among Christian leaders today…

Yesterday we had the second of our prayer and worship nights. It was another powerful time of music, prayer, and meeting with the Lord. Last night’s time was really special in that we were praying over and commissioning Randy for his medical mission trip to Haiti, which he will be going on in a few days. Several of those in attendance gathered around Randy, and laid hands on him, and offered up prayers for strength, wisdom, protection, and trust in the Lord. Then Pastor Larry anoited his head, heart, and mouth with oil and prayed over him. It was really cool!

We also had several different people lead us last night which was really neat  too. I led some, Jack and Cody had some time leading worship, and Sandra and Paula led in some songs too. It was good to be able to put my guitar down for a time and go pray, and I actually went back and was able to write some prayers/lyrics in my journal during that time.

Another cool thing about the prayer and worship nights is it gives us a little space to seek God and then do what we feel like the Spirit is leading us to do. I know some last night felt led to pray for others that were there, and it seemed to just really open up people’s hearts to God and each other and I hope that people were blessed.

 

Wow, I have Bibles in different translations within arms reach all around me right now.  I could go to http://www.biblegateway.com and bring up a favorite verse in mere moments.  We can get the bible as an app on our iphone or blackberry.  It’s amazing to see the celebration in the video below when the Kimyal people finally get the long awaited New Testament in their own language.  They must know first hand the power of the Word to save, heal, and transform individuals and society. May we love God’s word like them!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/17025038″>The Kimyal People Receive the New Testament</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user2404878″>UFM Worldwide</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Usually when I hear worship leaders talk about Psalm 33 they highlight the play skillfully part. I think the article below does a good job of reminding us why we should play skillfully. From Junjie Huang:

 

 

If you want to end a conversation amongst church musicians, ask them “What’s the Scriptural reason for wanting music skill?” More often than not you will get blank stares.

Of course, having music skill is a practical consideration. We want musically skilled people playing for the Lord in worship. But it’s interesting to hear what reasons many in the worship ministry give for music skill.

The most common one is derived from Malachi 1, the idea of not offering God a blemished sacrifice. Though I agree with the idea that our musical offerings to the Lord are part of our sacrifices of praise to him, if we take upon ourselves the burden of keeping our sacrifices unblemished, that means ONE mistake renders our offering unacceptable.
Is that a burden you’d like to carry? I’ll pass, thanks!
It’s interesting that in the entire Bible there is only ONE reason given for music skill. Check it out:
Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to him a new song;  play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. (Psalm 33:1-5, NIV)
It’s not about the offerings and sacrifices we offer to God. It’s about His Word, His faithfulness, His righteousness, justice and unfailing love. When that becomes your motivation for pursuing music skill, you find that there’s a greater freedom and joy in your worship life and ministry. Which is how it is supposed to be.
My working definition of ‘worship’ is ‘ascribing worthiness’, which implies paying attention to the object of worship. And I’ve seen so many worship ministers become so focused on perfecting their offerings, so obsessed with making sure their sacrifices are unblemished, that they end up paying more attention to their ‘worship’ than the God they are supposed to worship.
It’s a dead end road, devoid of joy. People can end up bitter with God and burned out when they go that way. I don’t want that to happen to you!
But if your focus is on the wonders of his Word (Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws – Psalm 119:164, NIV), faithfulness, righteousness, justice and unfailing love, there is a strength and joy that rises within you as you play skilfully unto the Lord. You start to be filled with the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10, and you will also find courage to face the challenges of life.
Take this week to meditate daily on Psalm 33:1-5 (memorize it if you can) and let the Word of God change your heart and breathe fresh life unto your praises and offerings to Him!
If you like Junjie thoughts on worship you can get more of them at http://www.invisibleworshipmusician.com

 

 

Putting sermons online.

I think this is one of the greatest things about the internet age.  With all that is bad about the internet, there is also loads of potential when you view it as a mission field and a communication tool.  I love to listen to sermons on my ipod when I am working out so when I came to New Life I wanted to be able to find a way to start recording sermons and getting them on the website, for people to be able to download and listen to.  Space to save sermons on a website can be hard to come by, but I found a site at http://www.sermoncloud.com that lets you save up to 52 sermons (a years worth) on their site for free, and then you can simply link those sermons to your site. It also creates an RSS feed for people to subscribe to, and did I mention it’s free?

But first you need to find a way to record your sermons. Here is what we do.  Run a line out from the sound board to the 1/4 inch microphone jack on your laptop. (The light green is a line out and for headphones, the orange or pinkish one is the line in recording jack). Download a free recording software called audacity.  Download an application for audacity called a lame converter (weird name huh?) which will convert the recorded file into an mp3 file, and then you can load that mp3 sermon file that you just recorded onto the sermoncloud website. Create a direct link from your church’s website to where your sermon is being hosted on sermoncloud and people from your church can then listen to sermons that they missed or download them to share.

Another neat feature about sermoncloud is there are a lot of people searching for sermons on there and you will be surprised at how many downloads your sermons get from other people out there in internet land. Probably only about 20% of our church’s sermon downloads are from people that go to our church.

Good stuff! Next time we will look at a free service planning application that I use that may or may not be as good as planningcenteronline.com but will do the job nonetheless.

Chirst is risen from the dead

Trampling over death by death

come awake, come awake

Come and rise up from the grave

Those are the words in the chorus of Matt Maher’s song Christ is Risen, which is one that we will be working on as a worship team in the next few weeks in preparation for Easter. I really love the words in this song as well as the passion and the build up to a really great final chorus. Here is what Matt has to say about it from his website:

“God really is a genius (duh!). He used death to destroy death. He did not even have to lift a finger. He literally tricked death into destroying itself. Jesus used the process of death to completely eradicate it. So now it just becomes a process of transformation, now it is a window or a doorway. Every Easter in the Ukraine, congregations chant the phrase, “Christ is risen from the dead trampling over death by death, and redeeming us from the grave”. I thought, “that is an amazing thought to sing. We should sing it in the west.”

Check out the song below:

 

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