Monday, March 9, 2015

Worship Leading Tips: TIMELESS SONGS


As constructing a sermon is to a pastor, so constructing a worship set is to a worship leader. You want to have solid content and memorable hooks that will stick with your church as they walk away.

For a worship leader, song selection is a very important and delicate, weekly task.

I don't view myself as an entertainer, therefore I want my church to be able to easily engage, participate and sing the songs every week. That being said, I try to select SINGABLE songs! Novel idea, right? It doesn't sound very profound, but it seems to be somewhat of a lost art.

What I've found is that the songs that seem to be the most accessible for the church are those songs that are timeless. They are those new or old songs that have that timeless, ageless quality. Timeless songs are songs that could have been written this week or 300 years ago. If we as worship leaders embrace them, I believe we can more effectively help our churches embrace God in corporate worship.

Here's some qualities I look for in a timeless song:

1. SIMPLE MELODY - Think of the most popular songs that have been passed down from generation to generation. Most of them have a memorable, simple melody line. The melody is the key to a great song. The more complicated the melody, the harder it is to sing. I'm not saying that every great song has a simple melody, but if you want most of the people in your church to sing a song, a simple melody will enable that greatly. I was in a work shop at the National Worship Leader Conference one year, when I heard Nathan Nockels critiquing a song. He talked about keeping the melody simple, which means to limit the fluctuation in the notes of the melody line. I think the reason the Beatles' songs have stood the test of time so well is because of their gift for writing memorable, yet simple melodies. It doesn't have to be complicated to be great and when it's simple, more people will be able to sing it. Keep it simple!

2. AGE ADAPTABILITY - A timeless song is an ageless song. It's melody is simple enough to be adapted to any generation. A timeless song can be sung by my 7 year old daughter or my 81 year old grandpa. When you look at your setlist, is it geared for just one age group or can it be embraced by multiple generations? The church is a multi-generational organism and a healthy church accurately represents that. I am, in no way, suggesting a blended style worship set. That can sometimes be more confusing than constructive. I'm simply challenging that we use songs that are simple and accessible to the past generations all the way to the next generation.  One of the timeless songs I use is "10,000 Reasons". That's a great example of a song that's embraced by every generation in my church. I expect my generation and younger to like most of the songs I use, but there's nothing sweeter to me than when I hear a compliment from someone who's 30 to 50 years older than me. It tells me that most everyone was able to engage in worship in the same hour. That means I'm serving the whole church and not just one demographic of it.

3. STYLE VERSATILITY - A song that stands the test of time is largely preserved by it's versatility. When you strip all of the instrumentation away, do you still have a great song? When a song is too dependent on the accompaniment, it's versatility is extremely limited. The obvious examples of versatile songs are the revised hymns that we've all heard in the past decade. A timeless song can be played by a rock band, acoustic set or an old-school piano and organ. When you have style versatility in a song, it's life-span is drastically increased. I think one of the greatest examples of this is "All Creatures of our God and King". It was written in the 1600's, yet it is easily translated to today's popular style. Why? Because of it's versatility. When you're looking for a timeless song, test it with different styles.

The goal of this post is not to promote old hymns. God does not care about the date of a song, as long as the heart is right behind it. This post is about helping our people engage in corporate worship. Singing a song can be one of the most unifying elements for a group of people to do. A worship setlist that does not accomplish that is an oxymoron.

Psalm 100:2 says, “Worship the LORD with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy."

This is not a suggestion. This is a command.

As worship leaders, let's have a heart for God, His commands and His church, no matter what demographic they belong to. Let's give them songs they can sing. Timeless songs can be a very effective tool in this mission.

Here's some timeless songs (new and old) that I've used in corporate worship:

"How Great Thou Art"
"How Great is our God"
"All Creatures of our God and King"
"10,000 Reasons"
"Amazing Grace"
"Lord, I Need You"
"I Surrender All"
"Here I Am to Worship"
"It is Well"
"Because He Lives (Amen)" name a few.

What are some other songs that you think are timeless? 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Album Review - Brother

From Integrity Music:

Integrity Music announces the signing of The Brilliance, a US-based liturgical band led by David Gungor and John Arndt, and announces a February 17 global release for the group’s full-length album, Brother.
Known for connecting liturgical tradition and modern worship, The Brilliance previously released four albums – The Brilliance, Cavetime, Advent Volume 1 and Advent Volume 2, along with two EPs, Lent and For Our Children. The duo, backed by a variety of musicians including cellists, violinists and rhythm players, have been sharing their music on the road, in churches and “house shows” around the country, including recent Advent and Christmas concerts in California, Texas, Washington, Kansas, Michigan and Washington, D.C.  

Their new album, Brother, will release globally the week Lent begins (Feb 18) as both a physical CD available at Christian retail outlets and as a digital album, available through all major digital service providers.

Every once and a while, an album comes along that captures us musically and moves us emotionally. This is one of those albums.

The Brilliance consists of David Gungor and John Arndt. David is the brother of Michael Gungor and both he and John were members of The Michael Gungor Band years ago.

Their newest album, Brother, ventures outside of the Christian culture walls and leads the listener to ask questions, instead of just spoon-feeding them all the answers. I love this concept of asking the God of all answers and studying, instead of just accepting the dogma of those that are sometimes tainted by earthly desires.

If you love God and love music, you'll love this project. It's not something you'll catch on Christian radio. It's music that reflects the creativity of our culture.

As a worship leader, I didn't find any gems for my church to sing, but I did find songs that lead me to meditate, examine and pray. Maybe some worship leaders will find songs for their church, though.

The standouts of the album for me were "Now at the Hour", "Breathe", "Love Remains", "Prayers of the People" and my favorite was "Does Your Heart Break".

Another obvious standout was the title track, "Brother". This song was personally challenging and timely. After meeting Israeli and Palestinian families, David was inspired to write the song. I definitely have enemies in my life, but forgiveness is the power I have to look on them with Godly compassion. With lyrics like, "Forgiveness is the garment of our courage", the song is sure to induce some kind of response.

Here's a video of "Does Your Heart Break":

Thank you The Brilliance and Integrity Music for this release!

Click Here to download it on iTunes today!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Worship Leading Tips: LOVE & LOVE GOD


In my first couple of ministries, I worked with college students in our church. One of the highlights of the year was taking them to the annual Passion Conference led by Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman and all the other cool kids of the modern worship movement. It was always an opportune few days to get fed and inspired about God, church and life. One year, I had the opportunity to meet Matt Redman, and being a fan, I asked him for an autograph. As a young worship leader, he had truly inspired and shaped my outlook on worship ministry and songwriting through his songs and books. He was kind enough to indulge my cheesiness with an autograph and above his name he wrote, “Love & love God."

It was simple, yet profound. It stuck with me.

In just a few words, he stated the essence of life itself.

Matt was echoing Jesus. He was echoing scripture. He was stating the greatest commandment.  

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"
Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)

Jesus made it simple. It's about one thing: LOVE.

The thing is this: People matter to God, so they should matter to me. Love and love God. I cannot love God, if I do not love people. I cannot have passion for Jesus, if I do not have compassion for people. 

For a worship leader that wants more than just music, loving people is going to start off the stage. It’s going to take getting into people’s messy lives and caring for them. It’s going to be more than a song. It’s going to mean becoming more than a worship leader. 

So, what does it look like for a worship leader to love people OFF STAGE? To answer that, we just need to look to Jesus. I mean, He is the ultimate worship leader. When you look to the gospels, everything He did was for the glory of the Father. He truly modeled how a worship leader can love people OFF STAGE.

1. REACH OUT TO THE UNREACHED - A worship leader has visibility and influence in the local church. More than likely, most people know you, even if you do not know them. The challenge for the worship leader is to get off the stage, out of the green room and into the lives of the attendees. Use your influence for good. Use it to love and spend time with the people. There are people in your church that no one talks to or knows. They are the nameless and faceless that need to be exposed and loved. Look for opportunities to lead the way in that. Jesus definitely did that. He broke down social walls in John 4 when he reached out to the Samaritan woman at the well and truly led her to worship. Who are the unreached that God has brought to your church? Who are the nameless and faceless that you have the influence to expose and love?

2. JOIN YOUR CHURCH - Just because you lead worship on a Sunday, it does not disqualify you from being in a small group or serving during the week. Remember that everyone that serves voluntarily has a job, a family and a life that does not revolve around your ministry. They serve because they want to and because they love God. Worship leaders should have the same heart and attitude. I’m vocationally full time in ministry. I work for the church and I get paid for it. My wife and I host a small group. I separate those responsibilities. I do not host a small group, because I get paid for it. I do not consider it part of my job or weekly work schedule. I do it to join my church in it’s mission. I do it because I want to get connected to the people of my church. It’s all about having the same heart that Jesus had for the church. In Ephesians 5:25, it says that Jesus loves the church and He gave His life for it. Worship leaders need to have the same heart. Love your church. Join your church. They need you and you need them.

3. MAKE DISCIPLES - Every worship leader and church leader needs to memorize Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus clearly tells us to GO and MAKE DISCIPLES. How amazing is that?! The Maker of it all has asked us to make disciples. Every church's vision and mission statement should have the end goal of discipleship. God gave me a burden for intentional discipleship several years ago and I have found more fulfillment OFF STAGE discipling others than I have ON STAGE leading others in song. Don't settle for just being in front of people. Be in the lives of people and have a heart for the great commission of Jesus. There’s nothing more loving you can do than to invest in someone and teach them how to grow closer to God and show them how to help others. That’s discipleship. Discipleship is equipping others to do the work of the Lord. I feel like worship leaders are often more focused on equipment than they are on equipping. Let’s change that! Let’s love people!

Loving people with the love of God will endure and go beyond any song we could ever sing. 

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
I Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)

Love & love God. There’s no purer motive a worship leader could have.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Worship Leading Tips: LOUD or PROUD CROWD


As a worship leader, I can't help but constantly see the comparison and contrast between sports and church. I love sports. I love leading worship. When I lead worship, I challenge and push my church to be as excited and loud about their passion for God, as they are about their favorite sports team. I push them to get even louder about their love for God!

When you think about college sports, it seems to be another level. If you've been around college football fans, they're beyond loud. They're loud and proud! They're much like Texans. If you've ever spent any time with Texans, you know that they're loud and proud about their home state. "It's God's country", they say! I don't necessarily think that it's a bad thing. I admire their geographical enthusiasm. One of my favorite movie scenes about Texas is from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure:

Generally, when people are proud of something, they're loud about it. Loud and proud isn't horribly awful in our society. In church world, though, the proud part can really get in the way of worship. It can, in turn, affect the loud part.

It's a good and biblical thing to be loud in our praise. Psalm 150 talks about "loud symbols". Psalm 98:4 says, "Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music!"

That doesn't seem to encourage a quiet atmosphere.

There's no place for pride in worship. Pride is the main thing that will hold a person and some churches back from joyfully and freely proclaiming their love for God.

This brings the worship leader to the question, "Is my crowd loud or proud?"

What I've found is that if we can get our crowd past being proud, we can help them get loud in their worship of the Lord.

Here's some tips I've learned about helping our crowd get more loud and less proud:

1. CHALLENGE THEIR MOTIVES - If the "WHAT" of church is the gathering together of God's people, then the "WHY" is worship. The purpose of going to church as the Church is to glorify God together. That must be our motive. If that's not our motive, then we have some serious problems and they're all mainly rooted in pride. Remind your crowd about that. If we go to a game with the intent of cheering on our favorite sports team, then let's go to church with the intent of expressing love and adoration for the Lord. It's ok to do a heart check with our church on that. It's one hour of the week and most people need to be reminded of that. When we do that, we challenge their motives in a healthy way.

2. NUDGE THEIR VOLUME - If you want something louder, you need to push the volume. The way we do that with our crowd is the same way you do that with a sound system...a nudge at a time. If you just push the volume slider all the way up, you'll get some major feedback. If you push your crowd too much in their volume, you'll also experience some major negative feedback from them. Take opportunities each week to nudge them along. Look for open doors to address it, but have fun with it in the process. It's a baby step process. If their motives are in the right place then you can nudge their volume at the right pace.

3. SHOWCASE THEIR VOICES - There's nothing more amazing to me than to hear a congregation of average voices lifting praises to our Lord. There's so much beauty in that. A big factor I've experienced in getting a louder crowd, is stepping off the mic and letting the voices of my church fill the place. When a crowd can hear themselves singing, they start realizing that they're participators instead of spectators. When the worship leader steps off the mic, the place not only hears that, but they also see it. It's my signal to the crowd that it's time for them to take the lead vocals on the worship team. When my vocalists on stage see me do this, they know to step back as well. This is the time to showcase the voices of our church. The beauty of it unifies us all into a choir singing praises to our God.

4. RECOGNIZE THEIR PROGRESS - As you challenge and push your crowd, don't forget to encourage them. Recognize their progress each week. It's amazing what a little encouragement does to people. Encouragement fuels momentum. I've seen worship leaders get up and ridicule their crowd for being too disengaged. Guess what happened....the place got quieter. Remember that they don't have to be there. They are there because they want to do the right thing. Worship leaders have the power to really encourage that. It's necessary to challenge your crowd, but don't neglect encouraging and recognizing them and their progress. It will only motivate them in their pursuit of God.

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe that volume is the main validator of hearts. I don't believe that a loud crowd is the end game here, but I do see a problem. The problem is that there's a lot of excitement amongst Christians about other things in this world, and suddenly, that energy seems to dissipate as they walk into a church building.

Jeremiah 9:23-24 says,

This is what the Lord says:
“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”

declares the Lord.

There's no place for pride in worship. We will either boast about God or ourselves. It's never simultaneous.  If our churches are generally quiet about God, that usually means that pride is getting in the way. Let's teach our churches to boast about how great God is! When it comes to the worship of the Lord, let's teach our crowds to be more loud and less proud.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Album Review - Back to the Start

The band Delirious? was worship music before worship music was cool. The frontman was a guy named Martin Smith. One of the best concerts I've ever been to was a Delirious? concert. Martin and the band truly knew how to write, record and lead songs that set the stage for an amazing encounter with our God.

Now, he's solo and has a new release called Back to the Start. Here's a description from Integrity Music:

Former Delirious? frontman, co-founder and primary songwriter, Martin Smith releases Back To The Start, Oct. 21 though Integrity Music exclusively throughout North America. Combining favorites from his 5-star-acclaimed solo debut, God’s Great Dance Floor, Step 01, and second, full-length installment, God’s Great Dance Floor, Step 02, the resulting collection reintroduces songs recently heard on Martin’s tour with Bethel Music to North American audiences.

If you're a Delirious? fan, you'll love this project. It's pure Martin Smith writing and a very authentic feel in the production. My favorites were "Back to the Start", "Emmanuel", "Waiting Here For You", "Awake My Soul" and "Song of Solomon" which is a beautiful, intimate, biblical ballad. There's also a much better version of "God's Great Dance Floor" offense Chris Tomlin and Passion. :)

Here's a couple cool concept videos from the album:

"Back to the Start (God's Great Dance Floor)"


Thank you Martin Smith and Integrity Music for this release! Loving it!!!

Click Here to download it on iTunes today!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Album Review - Coming Alive

I always love when a record label and an artist put out projects like this. What I mean is, projects that truly give the local church songs to sing that they CAN sing. All of the songs that Dustin Smith has released on his past album and his newest projects are songs that are singable, accessible and scriptural.

His new project kicks off with the title track and it serves as a great call to worship. It continues from there like any worship set should...a beautiful journey of songs for God and for the worshiper.

The standouts for me were "Coming Alive", "Now and Forevermore", "He's Alive", "Extravagant Love" and "You are the Fire".

That being said, they're all great songs. I'm excited to see how God is going to use these songs in churches across the world. I'm excited to see how God is using an artist like Dustin.

I know the people at Integrity and their philosophy about the music business. They have a heart and a focus to see these songs used in the local church. That's super encouraging to me.

Thank you Dustin Smith and Integrity Music for this release!

Click Here to download it on iTunes today!

Monday, August 11, 2014



I recently went to the National Worship Leaders Conference. Naturally it was crawling with all kinds of creatives with different expressions and styles...and there was a lot of skinny jeans, of course.

Skinny jeans is definitely worn by many worship leaders, but there's one thing that all worship leaders wear every time they get up in front of a congregation. It's not something you request to wear, but it is something you're required to wear. It's simply part of the worship leader attire.

Every worship leader wears a TARGET.

When you get up in front of a group of people, you're not going to please everyone. Not everyone is going to give you encouragement. You are going to get scrutinized and criticized. You're an easy target.

I've pretty much heard it all. I've been criticized for my song selection, musical style, tempo, volume, lighting and even clothing.

When you surrender to the call of leading God's people, you are also surrendering to the call of receiving God's people's criticisms.

So, how do we deal with criticism?

Here's some tips I've learned about dealing with that oh-so-wonderful criticism:

1. HUMBLE YOURSELF - You have a very important choice in life. You can either humble yourself or God will humble you. The Bible is clear on which option to choose. James 4:10 says, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up." Pride is that nasty thing inside of you that will turn a criticism into a crisis. Humbling ourselves means laying down the defenses and trusting that God will lift you up, just as He has promised. In my experience, when I lay down my defenses, it will often disarm a situation and enable some resolution. Every worship leader will be criticized. It's part of it. If we are to lead people to worship God, we must lead by example. Humbling yourself is an act of worship. It's God-honoring. Criticism can hurt, but pride will destroy you. When a worship leader succumbs to the temptation of pride in the face of criticism, nobody wins, except the enemy (Ephesians 6:12). Humble won't regret obeying God's instruction, especially when He's lifting you up.

2. LISTEN - Al Pacino was once asked what the most important aspect of acting is. He immediately replied, "Listening. If you don't listen, then you won't know how to react." Listening to criticism can sometimes be painful, but it is a very mature response and a healthy way to deal with it. Everyone has an opinion and what most everyone wants is just to be listened to. Hear them out! They may say something profound, even if they don't intend to. Years ago, a man came up to me after a service, who I knew didn't like anything I was doing. That particular morning, I introduced a song that I had written. I remember really getting lost in worship during that song. The man asked me if I had written it. I said yes, and he said he could tell. I then asked how he could tell, and he said something that has stuck with me since that day. He said, "I could tell, because you were really into it as you were singing it, but can I tell you something? Don't forget about us." At that moment, God spoke to me through that man's words. God taught me, right then, that as a worship leader, I am never to forget the crowd. The worship service was not about me worshiping. I can do that on my own. It's about leading all of us in worship. When you hear criticism, humble yourself and listen to it. You never know. God may be speaking to you through someone you never expected.

3. CONSIDER THE SOURCE - It's healthy to listen to criticism, but it's unhealthy to believe everything you hear. Criticism can be such a blow and a downer. The truth hurts, but there will be times that you will hear things that are not true. Some of the criticism you will receive may be completely ridiculous. That's when it's important to consider the source. Don't let one church member cloud your view of all the good that God is doing through you. If your heart is right and you have a humble spirit, remember that you will not please everyone. Some church members are spending too much time inspecting your actions rather than expecting God's actions. Humble yourself and listen, but don't let anyone steal your joy. Consider the source. They may be in a rough spot in their own life or they may have an unresolved issue with you. Your response and reaction could potentially help them, and that can be an amazing and God-sized victory.

Criticism is not the enemy. It can be a tool of the enemy, but only if we allow it to be. The same power that conquered the grave lives inside of us, and there is no criticism too big that we can't overcome.

Criticism will either make you bitter or better. It's totally up to you. Make it a good thing!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Album Review - Dance Again

It's not too often that I listen to an album and like every song, but I can definitely say that about this project.

Sadly, I seldom pick up a worship album anymore and find a bunch of songs that are fresh and accessible for my church to sing, but Dance Again by Life Worship UK is a solid collection of original, powerful, singable songs that most church worship teams can pull off.

I truly enjoyed every track, but I'll give you my absolute favorites.

"We Believe" - I love the Trinitarian theme here. Great anthem for the Christ-centered church to sing. By the way, the Newsboys have a version of this song currently being played on Christian radio. I'll just say that they should be playing Life Worship's version instead...I'll leave it at that.

"Dance Again" - Powerful, encouraging song - "Tears will dry. Your heart will mend. Scars will heal and you will dance again."

"Jesus' Blood" - Beautiful song of surrender to our Savior who gave it all.

"His Kingdom is Here" - Just try not to get goosebumps when you hear this song. "He reigns! He reigns!"

"I Lift My Hands" - Simple and infectious. I find myself walking around singing this one.

"This is My Surrender" - Heartfelt song of surrender and devoting our life to God.

If you're a worship leader, get this album and get ready to find songs for your church. I can't wait to incorporate some of these into our rotation. If you love worship music, you'll love belting these anthems out to God in church, your car or wherever else you listen to music.

I'm always thankful for these kind of projects. They don't come around that often.

Thank you Life Worship UK and Integrity Music for this release!

Click Here to download it on iTunes today!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Album Review - All Sons & Daughters

From the first time I reviewed their debut album for Integrity, I have always loved a new All Sons and Daughter release. I've had the privilege of meeting them and hearing them live. There's definitely something very special about the duo which was birthed out of their home church.

On their new self-titled project, we get a very mellow collection of songs, with a few exceptions. It actually reminded me of the classic Sixpence days, especially with Leslie Jordan's beautiful tone.

As a songwriter, I appreciated the evident growth in their musicality. It's certainly "easy on the ears."

The stand-outs for me were "God With Us", "Christ Be All Around Me", "For Your Glory and My Good" and "Great Are You Lord".

If I were to pick one I could see being sung in my church, it would "King Of Glory (You Restore My Soul)".

Download it on iTunes: