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How (and Why) We Choose Songs
April 15, 2009, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Worship Philosophy

In my 8 years of leading worship, I’ve learned a lot, primarily through mistakes and failures, about the process of choosing the right songs for corporate worship gatherings. In the beginning, my philosophy was simplistic – “what can I play?”  This eventually moved into the less simplistic philosophy of “what do I like?” I then moved forward a step or two to “what will they like?” Back then, I lacked wisdom and understanding not only about leading worship, but about worship itself.  I have come to learn more and more over the years that the way we understand worship must be the foundation of how and why we choose the songs we do.

The word “worship comes from the old English word “worth-ship,” which denoted the worth of someone or something, typically a noble or king. To say you are worshiping is essentially to express the worth of something or someone. To put it simply, worship is responding to the worth of God. Tim Keller takes it a step further by saying that worship is (a) seeing what God is worth, and then (b) giving Him what He is worth.

Singing Songs vs. Leading Worship

So as we lead a congregation or people in worship, our aim is to proclaim to the worth of God, and within this to invite people to appropriately respond to God in light of His worth.  One without the other leads to a lopsided worship experience.  In understand this, we choose songs that both proclaim the greatness and worth of God (which is why songs with good theology are important) and are accessible – in that they invite and allow people to respond to God in song.

But we also know that worship is not an isolated, musical event. Worship is an all-encompassing act of declaring the highest worth of God. This includes, corporately speaking, other elements in the service, including the preaching/teaching time.  Because of this, leading worship must be collaborative, especially between the worship leader and the pastor/speaker. When the musical worship and the message move together to (a) proclaim the worth of God and (b) invite response, we are left with a cohesive and effective worship experience, where both music and message proclaim God and invite response to Him. For me personally, I feel it’s my responsibility to have an understanding of where the pastor/speaker is going with the message in order to choose songs that help reveal God and respond to Him.

This is precisely why we cannot choose songs based neither on our own preference and feelings, nor those of the congregation. It’s not enough to simply peruse the “greatest hits” catalogue for what will garner the biggest response. Choosing songs must be an intentional, pastoral act of revealing God and inviting response to Him. So in that thought, here are some questions to help guide us in our song selection:

1.    What is this song saying about God?

Is it theologically sound? Does it reveal God in the manner that you intend?

2.    Is the song accessible to the congregation?

Is it too wordy? Is it sing-able (too high, too low, too fast, too slow)? Is it easy to understand? Can you sing it?

3.    Where is the song taking people?

Is the song effective in where you are intending to lead people (intentional, pastoral)?

Don’t Over-Think It!

            While choosing songs for congregational worship should be an intentional, pastoral act, it certainly shouldn’t be a rigid, lifeless, over-calculated process. Ultimately, we rely on the Holy Spirit to lead both us individually and our church as a congregation. It is the Holy Spirit, and He alone, that is able to reveal God through our music and song. We are facilitators of God revealing Himself through song and Word. No amount of our talent, intellect, and best intentions will reveal God – only the Holy Spirit through these elements. The other ditch in which we often swerve is the “just-go-for-it-and-let- the-Holy-Spirit-do-whatever” philosophy. I argue that this isn’t much like worship at all in that it requires very little of our actions and intentions in honoring God as leaders. We aren’t called to simply worship, but to lead people in worship. This should engage our hearts pastorally to lead people to know and respond to God in music and in life.

A Foot in the Past and in the Future

Another temptation that is easy to fall in as a worship leader is to get stuck in a rut by choosing songs from the same writer (Tomlin, Redman, Crowder), Church/Ministry (Hillsong, Vineyard, Passion),  or time period (hymns, Maranatha, 90’s Vineyard, progressive-modern). Many times we identify a particular style, period, or songwriter(s) with a time in which we experienced God in a deep way. In turn, we project our preference and style onto others unintentionally by trying to lead them back to the place of your worship. What we fail to understand often is that God is not bound in a particular style, period, genre, or time. For me, I believe we are most effective when, musically, we delve deep into both the past and the future. We honor the hymns of the past with their rich and vibrant theology, even using them as a foundation for present and future songwriting. We seek musical/spiritual innovation and growth of the future. In the tension between the past and the future, we find a fresh and vibrant present, in which we engage and respond to God in the here and now.

Don’t Be Afraid!

            In conclusion, don’t be afraid to dream, to take risks, and to fail. As I said at the beginning, most of what I’ve learned and continue to learn is from mistakes and failures. We will try and fail and make plenty of mistakes as we continue to lead, and that’s fine, because God uses these moments to shape us both as worshipers and leaders. Go confidently in your calling as a worship leader, and as you – yourself – see God’s worth, I pray you respond to Him by giving Him everything He deserves – your song, your giftings, your life.



I’ve Been Thinking About Trinitarian Worship (Essentials Blue)
January 21, 2009, 12:09 am
Filed under: Essentials Blue

For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

As my friends gathered together last night to discuss the readings and resources we’ve been taking on, the topic of the Trinity came up as a particularly interesting discussion. It seems that everyone wholeheartedly believes in the Trinity, but strangely, Trinitarian theology makes practically no difference in the way we know and relate to God. It’s more of a concept to tidy up a few loose ends that’s used by people with more degrees than we do.

And yet how sad it is that one of the most beautiful and mysterious biblical doctrines in all of Christianity is little more than a footnote to a majority of us, let alone a central element in our worship and understanding of God. Being that we are the only Vineyard in Lexington, practically none of our band had any prior experience with the Vineyard before joining our community, and therefore came from a variety of theological and denominational backgrounds. What we found in our discussion was a diverse background in understanding Trinitarian theology.

For some, their past experiences were of overemphasizing one member of the Trinity. For the most part, this was the Holy Spirit for those coming from charismatic backgrounds. For others, their traditional backgrounds emphasized only the work of Jesus, ignoring the activity of the Holy Spirit and the role of the Father. One of our guys even grew up in an Apostolic background, where belief in the Trinity wasn’t even present (Jesus only).

This has me thinking – is our worship leadership Trinitarian in practice, not just belief? Do our songs reflect the beautiful Trinitarian theology in all it’s mystery? I can only think of a few songs off hand that explicitly mention or emphasize the Trinity, and so I’m pretty sure our song catalogue is lacking in this particular element. As worship leaders, I think our set lists need to allow our communities to connect to each unique person of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit.  Otherwise we risk our congregations growing to have a limited view of the totality of who God has revealed Himself to be, which is beyond tragic.

In incorporating Trinitarian theology into our worship, we allow our communities to both know more and know less about God; to draw closer to the majesty and the mystery of our God.



I’ve Been Thinking About Telling The Story (Essentials Blue)
January 16, 2009, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Essentials Blue

For: The Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen’s University, Essentials Blue Online Worship Theology Course with Dan Wilt.

Well, we’re the through the first week of Essentials Blue, and I’ve truly been challenged by the learning community that is journeying together across the world. There have been several little nuggets of insight that have hit me on a micro level, but what has really come to my attention has been what is going on within me on more of a macro level.

I’ve been leading worship in some capacity for almost 9 years now, and for most of my journey throughout I’ve been frustrated with two things. The first was my inability to define and understand what my role was in the Church now and in the future as a “worship leader.” There’s something completely unsatisfying about just being the guy who plays the newer songs for the cool Church down the road. The second is that I’ve never truly been able to find any sort of mentoring/teaching/training that helped me in discovering and answering my first frustration. There are very few seminaries that teach what I do, and those that do are astronomically expensive. And so for the majority of the my time leading worship, I’ve felt like I’m on my own, for the most part.

One of the beauties of this class is that both of my frustrations, as I see, are coming to and end. Dan Wilt’s article “The Worship Artisan” is a powerful exposition of the present and future role of the Worship Leader in the Church, and reading it has opened up a new way of thinking about how God is shaping me as a leader. N.T. Wright (who I’m pretty sure I’d follow around like a Hannah Montana fan) and his book “Simply Christian are more fully shaping my ability to tell and retell the Grand Narrative of Scripture.

This leads me to where I am currently – if there’s anything I sense from God in the midst of all the material and training taking place, it’s that I (and the rest of us Worship Artisans) are responsible for being gifted Storytellers. He’s calling us to use our Art and Music and Culture-Shaping Influence to tell the Story of God in new and fresh ways for our ever-shifting world. Theologians should be the best storytellers – they should be the ones who teach and tell the wondrous Story throughout history. Coming to an understanding and knowledge of God is in many ways the culmination of understanding His Story, and our part in it. 

So as the year begins, I ask God for the heart to not only be a great leader, a great pastor, a great worshiper , a great songwriter – but to be a great storyteller.



Watch me learn. And learn too?
January 10, 2009, 3:25 pm
Filed under: Essentials Blue

Hey. Myself and 7 others in the Vineyard bands are going through some online classes called Essentials through the Institute of Contemporary and Emerging Worship Studies. This will take place over the next 3 months or so, and being that one of the requirements is for us to keep an active thought process going on a personal blog, well, here we are. I’m really looking forward to it. So, even if you aren’t in the classes, feel free to respond or read as well.



Grapes, Raisins, or a Glass of Wine
January 6, 2009, 12:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

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Thlipsis is the Greek word translated in the New Testament as tribulation and/or suffering. It comes from a term used in referring to the pressing of grapes to produce wine.  As the New Year dawns and the challenges that await in the coming months come into better focus, I’ve been thinking a lot about this “thlipsis” and how God is using it to shape me.

To clarify, I would not qualify my life as being one defined by suffering and tribulation. Those seem like monumental words in light of my often (by most standards) un-momentous life. I have experienced some levels of trials and tough circumstances, but nothing near what I would consider tribulation or suffering. I do think, however, that there is evidence of a more subtle, subversive “thlipsis” pressing taking place in my life, and in your life.

For me personally, God is using several factors in my life to “press in” and shape me. On one side, there are a few tough relational challenges that are definitely pressing in on me, as God teaches me to love even when it’s not comfortable. On another side, there are the challenges that go with finding my place as a leader and a pastor in my church, and understanding and more clearly articulating who He is calling me to be. This includes taking on some tasks that challenge me and leaving behind tasks that I may feel far more comfortable in. This is certainly pressing in on me.

With something as fragile as a grape, it isn’t long into the process of pressing that a breaking takes place. This is how wine has been produced for thousands of years. Grapes are certainly nice to eat, but the most lasting, enjoyable use of the grape is wine, which becomes more valuable and enjoyable with age. I believe this is why God chooses to press us the way He does, sometimes much more firmly than others. He is in the business of bringing out of us the absolute best. Remember though, this is not at all for our enjoyment. No grape has ever enjoyed a good glass of wine. The fruit of the vine is solely for the enjoyment of the Vinedresser. It’s not worth pretending that the pressing is easy. Sometimes it hurts like hell. But God, in His Soveriegnty, knows how to produce through us something beautiful. It is in our breaking that God brings us to our most pure and intended state.

But if a grape were to avoid this pressing at all costs, as many, including myself, have done, the result is simple. Raisins. Our lives shrivel up to become many times less what we were. Edible? Yes. Enjoyable? On rare occasions. Mostly mixed in, and covered up by, the foods we like. A mere shadow of what they could have been.

I pray that in the coming year that I more fully embrace God’s pressing, in all it’s painful beauty. I believe that it will produce in me (and through me) something far more than I could have asked for or imagined.



2nd Annual Best List – Best of 08
December 26, 2008, 5:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m going to be like every other website and give my best of 2008 for the second straight year, only this one will be much simpler. So without further delay, here we go.

Favorite Albums of 2008:
Sigur Ros – Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Jakob Dylan – Seeing Things
Ryan Adams – Easy Tiger
Sandra McCracken – Gravity Love
Charlie Hall – The Bright Sadness
John Mark McMillan – The Medicine
Ryan Delmore – The Spirit, The Water, and The Blood

Favorite Books of 2008:

Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
Culture Making by Andy Crouch
Breakthrough by Derek Morphew

Favorite Movies of 2008:
Dark Knight
August Rush
Young at Heart

Favorite Food of the Year:
Grilled Corn on the Cob Guacamole without a doubt.
Favorite Beer of the Year:
Kentucky Ale/Kentucky Light
Honorable Mention: Fat Tire and Spotted Cow
Favorite City I Visited:
Estes Park, Colorado
Note: List is subject to change on or before December 31st, 2008.


Selling Scripture
December 9, 2008, 3:53 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

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As I’ve wandered the endless, foreboding caverns of shopping malls this holiday season, I’ve peaked a few times inside the doors of your local Christian Bookstore. Now to be clear, I’m not a, well, huge fan of Christian Bookstores, and not because I’m some bitter emergent type as one might expect. It’s mostly because I feel as if the faith/resource/marketing/consumerism line is far too often blurred. This was especially clear when I came upon these fine products seen above. The “official” Mossy Oak Bible  (for those pesky times when killing a deer and your ‘quiet time’ seem to coincide) and the beautiful N.F.L. – New Found Life, of course – Pigskin Bible cover (can we EVER go wrong with acrostic?). Now in a sense, the bookstore is responsible for marketing and selling things like books and music to us, the consumer, and therefore are obliged to do so with all the pizzaz they can muster. I can’t complain about such because – and lets be honest – if I had a CD in there, I’d want it to be sold.
But the Bible is different. It seems like marketers are working overtime to produce Bibles for individualized sections of society – sailors, cowboys, firemen, Charismatics,  Reformation enthusiasts, Black women, hunters, soccer players, teens, and your typical men’s and women’s Bibles. In a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, I counted a total of 67 different Bibles marketed at a specific audience. For some of them, I actually checked to see if they had the same number of books, or if they had added a few specifically aimed at their target audience, because surely with this type of variety you have to out-market your Bible to catch the eye of Joe Consumer. 

I shiver at the thought of what this communicates to people, but it actually fits with a predominant attitude in many evangelical circles – that the Scriptures are molded and presented to fit you and your specific needs.  We’ve come a long way from the world where one copy of the Scriptures was shared among the community. Today, many Bibles are bought with the same mentality used for iPod accessories and bootleg jeans. In essence, instead of conforming our lives to the Scriptures, we are often conforming the Scriptures to our lives.

Eugene Peterson, in his incredible book on the Scriptures, “Eat This Book,” says: “What is surprising today is how many people treat the Bible as a collection of Sibylinne Oracles, verses or phrases without context or connection. This is nothing less that astonishing. The Scriptures are the revelation of a personal, relational, incarnational God to actual communities of men and women with names in history.” 

Too often our culture removes the transformative power of the Scriptures in it’s relational context, settling for a flowery, pithy guidebook for a vague and lifeless Americanized pseudo-Christianity. In doing so, we rob ourselves of everything the Scriptures were meant to be. If this is all we seek in the Scriptures, we may be better off spending our money on something else.