Have you ever had to learn multiple songs in a short amount of time? What did you do? Did you feel overwhelmed? Did you feel like you didn't even know where to begin? You are not alone! A few weeks ago a friend reached out and asked if I would cover down on lead guitar for a men's retreat he was leading at; the majority of my time is spent leading and traveling with ONElife Worship, so I was excited to just be the lead guitar player for a weekend! But then I opened Planning Center... I saw we would be playing 14 songs, which was awesome! However, out of those 14 songs I had only ever heard a small handful of them and only actually played a few of them before. Yikes! So, how did I process all of that? What was my method for learning all of those songs in a short amount of time? That's what I endeavor to lay out for you here. Whether you're learning 14 songs like me, or 4 songs, I believe the same principals can be applied!
1) Internalize the Song
The first thing I do when learning new songs is internalize them. I open Planning Center, I open Apple Music, and I make a playlist with all of the songs. I then proceed to listen to them over, and over, and over again. When I'm getting ready in the morning, I'm listening to the songs. When I'm driving to work, I'm listening to the songs. When I'm working out (that doesn't happen often), I'm listening to the songs. While it may begin as passive listening to merely get acquainted with the songs, after a few times through I begin to actively listen for song structure, when my instrument is playing, what my instrument is playing, what effects are being utilized , etc. Before I ever pick up my instrument I will have listened through the songs nearly a dozen times! In this regard, I know the song before attempting to learn the song. This makes it so much easier because I know both when I need to be playing and how it should sound.
"Know the song before attempting to learn the song"
2) Build Out the Presets
Admittedly, this is one step some of you could skip over -- maybe you're a bassist, or drummer, and this doesn't apply to you. Or, maybe you're a guitar player who isn't much of a tweaker and doesn't try to emulate the tones used on the original version of the songs. But for me, intentionally shaping delays and reverbs can take a worship guitar riff from bland and out of place to atmospheric and serving the mix well. In light of this, I make a dedicated delay preset (or two) for every song with my Boss DD-500. I attach each song title to a preset and set the BPM accordingly. Then I listen for the delay characteristics on the original recording and set each song preset accordingly. Is the guitarist using a quarter note delay? Eighth note? Dotted eighth? Dual delay? Are the delay repeats sharp and noticeable? If so, I may increase the delay level and and tone. Are the repeats dark and less noticeable? If so, I may decrease the delay level or feedback and roll off the tone. The same principal applies for reverbs. Truth be told, our utilization of wet effects can really make or break how well our instrument fits into the mix on a given song.
"Intentionally shaping delays and reverbs can take a worship guitar riff from bland and out of place to atmospheric and serving the mix well."
Additionally, most of the contexts I play in utilize a click track/metronome, so it's very convenient to program the BPM for each song rather than tapping the time in for each song on the fly -- most of us guitar players do enough tap dancing as it is, why not make it just a little easier on ourselves?
Once again, this is one step you could potentially skip over, but if you're a lead guitar player, I would highly encourage you to put a little time into this! Feel free to comment below if you have any questions on this.
"Our utilization of wet effects can really make or break how well our instrument fits into the mix on a given song."
3) Learn and Notate the Song
Once I have internalized the songs, made my delay and reverb presets, I then try my hand at actually learning and playing the parts. A strong foundation has been laid; I know the feel of the song, the structure, and the tones are dialed in , so now it's just a matter of getting my hands to cooperate accordingly. I predominantly learn by ear so I can usually feel out my parts easy enough, but some engineers bury the electric guitars in the mix... In this case, I have found resources like Rehearsal Mix on MultiTracks.com, where you can isolate the lead guitar from the rest of the tracks (and even change the song key), extremely helpful. With this resource you can also isolate acoustic, bass, keys, etc.
But what if you are more of a visual learner? If this is you, I would visit the Guitar for His Glory YouTube channel/website subscription; it doesn't get much better than this! On the YouTube channel you can watch great song play throughs for free, but if you subscribe to the website you have access to tablature and a lesson video that slowly walks through each part of the song, how to play it, and even the tones used. Rehearsal Mix and Guitar for His Glory subscriptions are each $10/month, but time is money and these resources are money well spent, if you are able!
In my case last week though, 14 songs was still a lot to learn in a short amount of time! As much as I wanted to, I just couldn't commit all those song parts to memory... yet. So, for the songs I was less familiar with or parts I was struggling to remember, I noted them out on a small pad of paper (as seen in the photo to the right). For some songs it was a simple tab, for others it was just the effects I need to use at various parts of a given song. I kept this small note pad on top of my amp and utilized it often throughout our rehearsal the day of the men's retreat. And by the time we were going on for our first set, I didn't even need it! However, it was still there on top of my amp as a point of reference just in case.
This is how I learn worship songs. Having a formula to follow each time has helped me to not only maximize time, but has made the process of learning new song easier and easier each time I do it! Is there anything you would add or subtract from this list? What has worked for you? Do you have a formula of your own? Let me know in the comments below!
Contributor / Dan Dameron
Dan Dameron is the Pastor of Gathering at ONElife Church in Flint, MI and Founder of ONElife Worship.
Over the past 12 months or so I have seen quite a lot of discussion over two popular worship songs and their content. I’m not writing this post to add to that specific discussion, as many people with far more wisdom than myself have weighed in on the subject, I’m writing this because within that discussion I feel that I’ve seen an alarming number of responses that read something like this:
“So what? Why does it matter if the songwriter said ______? It doesn’t hurt anyone and it’s a beautiful song.”
So why does it matter? It matters because we, as worship leaders, are responsible for shepherding our people. This isn’t just an issue with songs that have questionable lyrics. I won’t name specifics, but there are many popular worship songs I’ve encountered where I’m not really sure what they’re saying. Sure, they don’t say anything bad, but that’s because they really don’t say much of anything. As Ephesians 4 says, we as leaders have been called by Christ “...to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12-13 NIV). When it comes to the songs we sing this is an enormous responsibility that needs more response than a simple ‘so what?'
Teaching Pastors have to spend hours, and even days, every week pouring over commentaries and bible translations as they craft a sermon. Worship Pastors often can create their contribution to the service within just a few minutes, and that can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it allows us more time during the week for other tasks like prepping song slides, practicing our instrument, or meeting with volunteers. The potential curse comes when we gloss over the words we’re singing without realizing what we’re singing.
We live in one of the strongest eras of songwriting for the church; countless new songs are being written, recorded, and released every year, and yet we often fall into the temptation of simply choosing what’s on the radio because it has the best chance of being popular with our congregation (I mean, it is on the radio right?), but a songs popularity does not equal a songs worth for the church. Now, this is not to say we should throw out all modern worship songs, or that all songs need to have a certain word count. A song can be new and simple and yet still contain an important truth, or it can be wordy and poetic but never really take you anywhere.
"A songs popularity does not equal a songs worth for the church."
We need to be clear on what a song is saying, because if we’re not clear about it our congregation probably won’t be either. In speaking on preaching, Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary once stated “If its a mist in the pulpit, it'll be a fog in the pews." and I firmly believe the same applies to our singing. So how can we approach this in a biblical manner? When I’m selecting new songs for my church to sing there are 3 questions that I ask myself as I listen to and consider them. While it’s not a perfect gauge for which songs my church will ultimately connect with and sing back to the Lord, it does help provide a series of safety nets to weed out some songs that otherwise might sneak in on a catchy guitar part or memorable chorus along.
Is This True?
This is always the first question I ask when considering a song for my church. When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well He gave two requirements for biblical worship; it must be done in spirit and it must be done in truth (John 4:24). Why is this so important? Because if we lead our congregation to declare something about God that is not true then we are leading them into idolatry. If I wrote a song that was beautiful musically and lyrically but it said something like ‘Father, thank You for dying on the cross’ or ‘Jesus You sinned so that I would sin no more’ it should be unusable within a church because of those errors. Those words do not worship the God of scripture in truth, which means they are worship for a false god.
"If we lead our congregation to declare something about God that is not true then we are leading them into idolatry."
Every word of every song we put in the mouths of our people should be tied to scripture; it doesn’t need to be word-for-word verbatim, but if we view biblical content as an ocean, we should be at LEAST up to our knees in it (if not up to our neck or even over our head). Merely dipping a toe in the water of biblical wording or imagery doesn’t do enough to cover poor songwriting choices where truth was compromised for the sake of artistic expression. This leads me to my second question.
*For further consideration: I’ve recently started taking songs that are already in our church catalog and have begun searching for the scriptures that reinforce what the song is saying. There have even been Sundays where I’ve displayed the references next to the lines of the song as we sing them to remind my church family ‘Hey! What we’re singing here isn’t just poetry, it’s God’s truth!’ This has been a tremendous blessing for myself as I prepare, and also for many members of my church as we sing. Take some time to do this for some of your songs on a Sunday morning, I promise it will be worth the time!
Is This Clear?
A few years ago a conversation (much like the one I mentioned at the start of this post) popped up around another song and whether we should sing a specific lyric. Some were caught off guard by this unforeseen metaphor, and perhaps considered it to be sloppy while others didn’t see anything wrong with it at all.
In this case of this song I don’t think the issue was whether it was true, but whether it was clear. As artists we have a strong desire to do things differently; to say something in a way it hasn’t been said before, to show something in a way no one has ever seen it before. This desire is not inherently wrong, and I believe that God has placed this desire in us to create because He Himself is a creator. However, we cannot let fulfilling this desire become the end-all be-all when it comes to creating for the church. In the battle between biblical truth and artistic expression biblical truth should win every single time.
"In the battle between biblical truth and artistic expression biblical truth should win every time."
Now, to be fair this metaphor isn’t perfect because the author of the song has stated previously that when he wrote it he did not have corporate worship in mind, and because of this he used metaphors that made sense within his specific culture (which many people immediately understood and latched onto the lyrics). But it does serve as a reminder that as we choose songs for our church we need to be aware of what could ultimately lead to confusion or distracted from the overarching message of the song, and ultimately from worshipping God.
There is nothing we can do to make someone worship, but there are many things we do that can keep someone from worshiping. Our goal as worship leaders is to remove as many of these distractions as we can, which includes unclear lyrics. There is another distraction (though not as serious as false lyrics or unclear lyrics) but I always try to address it when I ask my final question of a new song.
*For further consideration: Sometimes there may be one or two lines that aren’t as clear as the rest of the song. If you think the rest of the song is strong enough in biblical truth that you want to use it, take some time to set up the song when you teach it; talk through the line with your people, show them where it comes from in scripture, or even put a footnote on the slide with the lyric in question. If it requires a lengthy explanation that you aren’t able to do every time then maybe the song is better served as a one-time special element for your church. We aren’t just song leaders, we’re teachers who should desire to help our church body think clearly and truthfully about what we’re singing and the One we’re singing to.
"We aren't just song leaders, we're teachers who should desire to our help our church body think clearly and truthfully about what we're singing and the one we're singing to."
Is This Singable?
*Of the three questions this one has the most variability within your context and people. No one should know or understand more about your congregations context and people than you do, so please take my thoughts through the filter of your church culture.*
There is a common phenomenon that fascinates me within our society. People from many different walks of life, backgrounds, careers, all come together to watch their favorite band or artist and sing along with the songs at the top of their lungs with no regard for what anyone around them may think. Yet, many of those same people will file into the rows of seats at church and barely mumble through the words of the songs on a Sunday morning at church. There are a lot of factors that can play into this, such song familiarity, loudness of the music, sometimes alcohol (and not the communion type). I’ve addressed some of these issues in another blog post so I won’t go more into details about those. However, I do want to address the important of making sure we’re choosing songs that are singable for the congregation. When I say ‘singable’ that means different things to different people, but my main focus is on 2 specific areas:
*For further consideration: Sometimes a songs range can be fixed by removing the octave jump that’s so popular in modern worship songs. If you’re worried about the song losing some of its ‘power’ then ask yourself this question; "is the song powerful because of the message, or the dynamics?" If the dynamics carry the song, chances are the message isn’t that strong to begin with and you can find another song that says the same thing in a better way.
What we sing matters. The way we say what we’re saying matters. Yes, God knows our hearts. Yes, our imperfect offerings of worship are perfected by the atoning work of Jesus Christ. However, just as we should not continue to sin so that grace may about (Romans 6:1), we also should not continue to act out of ignorance to what God has called us to do. James 3:1 warns us that those "...who teach will be judged with greater strictness", and if you are in a position of leading worship then you are a teacher of your congregation. Your responsibility in leading worship is a great joy, but it should never be taken lightly. Just as Jesus called Peter to feed his sheep, we too are responsible for the spiritual feeding of the church through song. Let’s make sure we’re giving them something healthy to chew on.
Contributor / Brad Spead
Brad Spead is the Pastor of Worship Arts at Bridge Bible Church in Norton Shores, MI.
As with any job or task in life, there are often moments where you think, “I wish someone had told me about this before I started," and worship leading is no different. Even as a young worship leader, I’ve already seen and experienced so many things that have shaped me and my ministry that no one ever told (or in some cases, warned) me about. When you encounter these things they will always point you in one of two directions; further towards your goal, or further away from it. They will either help you grow, or leave you saying "I didn’t sign up for this."
These are the moments you rarely hear about from the platform, whether at a camp, during a service, or attending a worship night, but they’re the moments that aspiring worship leaders need to be aware of. While the age of the internet and social media has opened so many positive doors for worship leaders, it has also created a glossy, larger than life image of what a worship leader is. It shows only the highlights and leaves out the struggles. It shows you the latest debut album, but not the 20 years of ministry-building to bring the church to that place. It shows you the bright lights and big stages but doesn’t show the hard work and labor leading into it. So I wanted to write this letter, speaking from my own experience as well as words of wisdom that have been spoken into my life by men who are much farther down the road than me and who cared enough to look back and help show the path for those who are following.
So if you’re reading this and you’re hoping to become a worship leader someday, or have already started, I’m going to present three questions for you to ask yourself that I hope you will dwell on and ponder, and I pray that the answers you find will be beneficial in your journey.
1. Are You Called to Lead, or Called to Pastor?
I could spend an entire blog post discussing the nuances of titles (worship leader, worship pastor, song leader, etc,), but while the responsibilities of these titles are often the same, the clarification is important. If you say that you feel called to be a worship leader, what do you think of first? Being on stage? Writing and leading original songs? Getting a record deal and going on tour? Or does your mind go to praying with your volunteers? Visiting a sick church member in the hospital? Having the hard conversations of confronting sin people's lives? Because unless you’re stepping into a megachurch that only wants someone to lead the songs and look pretty on stage (and yes, sadly there are churches that don’t look for more than that), you will be responsible for shepherding your church in some way, shape, or form.
In an average week I’ll spend between 40 and 50 hours working. We currently only have one service on Sundays that lasts an hour and 15 minutes, and of that service we’ll have 20-30 minutes of singing where I’m on stage leading. That means that less than 1% of my work week is spent on stage in front of the congregation. The rest of my time is spent either directly or indirectly shepherding my volunteers and my church through providing resources, planning and preparing services, making chord charts, troubleshooting tech in the Worship Center, meeting for lunches and coffee, and leading a small group in my home. Many of these tasks were things I had never been warned about or prepared for, but I enjoy doing them now because I see the fruit that comes from shepherding and loving my church in this way. I do enjoy that <1%, but it’s not what drives me to do my job well. In John 21 when Jesus is asking Peter if he loves Him, the command that follows is to "feed my sheep." If you desire to be a worship leader but do not desire to be a pastor then perhaps your desire is simply to be on stage. Which leads me to my next question for you to consider...
"If you desire to be a worship leader but do not desire to be a pastor then perhaps your desire is simply to be on stage."
2. Do You Love to Worship, or Do You Love the Stage?
Biblical worship is not confined within the 4 walls of a church building, it does not require lights and in-ear monitors, synths and large pedalboards. Those can all be helpful (or harmful) to creating an environment conducive to worshipping, but they do not make or break a time of worship. S,o when you say "I love to worship," does that statement come with caveats? Do you love to worship just as much by yourself or with a small group of people and an acoustic guitar? Or do you find that your love for worship is only felt when you’re standing in front of people on stage? A love for true worship will create a deep longing in your heart for others to see more of Jesus. A love for the stage will create a deep longing for others to see more of you (in the immortal words of famed news anchor Ron Burgundy; "Hey everyone! Come see how good I look!").
"A love for true worship will create a deep longing in your heart for others to see more of Jesus. A love for the stage will create a deep longing for others to see more of you."
As worship leaders we are called to do just that; lead. And the funny thing about leading in any aspect of life is that you can only lead someone where you have been before. Whether it’s hiking a mountain trail you’ve been down dozens of times or simply walking through the snow to create footprints for your children to step into after you, true leadership comes from having been there before. So if we are to point people to the glory of the gospel from the stage on a Sunday, we can’t do that with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength unless we have been gazing into the gospel for ourselves Monday through Saturday. If we love to worship, finding times to do it during those other 6 days will become easier for us over time; if we love the stage, finding those times will become harder and harder and we’ll fall farther and farther into the trap of trying to make people worship (something we cannot do) by something more compelling than the gospel (something we do not have). There is nothing wrong with loving the stage or wanting to be a professional musician in the sense of being an entertainer, but be very careful that the local church does not become a casualty of your ambitions. She is the bride of Christ, to be cherished and loved, which leads my to my final question.
"You can only lead someone where you have been before."
3. What Do You Love More, the People or the Music?
As I previously mentioned, one of the greatest gifts I’ve received as a worship leader is the wisdom and experiences shared by those who have gone before me. Countless pieces of truth have been spoken into my life by men I deeply respect, but one that has stuck with me more than any other was advice from my friend Andi Rozier of Vertical Worship; "love your people more than the music." So what does that look like, and how can you do it well?
"Love your people more than the music."
First and foremost, in order to love your people you need to know your people. After your service is done, do you immediately hit the green room? Or do you take the time to have conversations with your church family? Knowing your people, their stories, their struggles, and their victories will allow you to love them as you plan each week. Singing songs that relate to the season of my church as a whole or even to specific families or individuals has been one of the greatest blessings for me, because I get to see first-hand how they are impacted by the words we sing; their countenance changes, a look of peace comes across their face, sometimes there are tears. That is one of the greatest blessings in ministry that I could ever hope for, seeing people impacted by the beauty of the gospel.
Second, it is important to know and remember that Sunday morning is not your personal Spotify playlist (or anyone else’s in the church for that matter). I’ve told my church family on several occasions, there are songs we sing at our church that I don’t really like. They wouldn’t make it into my itunes account, they don’t get stuck in my head, my heart doesn’t skip a beat when I put them in the service plan, and that is ok. But I intentionally choose to sing them because I’ve seen the way these songs minister to our church body. We need to be willing to put our own personal preferences aside for the good of the body. We should first consider the songs substance before considering it’s style.
"We need to be willing to put our own personal preferences aside for the good of the body."
Third, it’s important to love ALL the people of your church more than the music. The body of Christ is diverse racially, but also generationally. Because of this. we need to intentionally be seeking to love every generation within our church family. Far too often I see worship leaders who take a callous viewpoint of the older generations, even going so far as to ignore them for the sake of trying to be culturally relevant to the younger crowd. While I'm not advocating for us to go back to pipe-organs and hymnals, we can love the older generation by finding common ground. Whether it’s a re-tuned hymn, a new arrangement, or even new songs that have a hymn-like cadence or feel to them, it’s possible to love them (not pander to them) in a way that can serve the church as a whole. I intentionally keep a handful of hymns in our song rotation, not to keep a quota, but as a reminder to myself that I am not the first to stand and lead the church in song, and I won’t be the last. Psalm 78:4 says, “We will… tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” We need to be intentionally providing ways for the generations who came before us to share and reflect on how God has worked and moved in their lives. This can also help us keep an eternal perspective on the vapor that is our existence on this earth.
"We need to be intentionally providing ways for the generations who came before us to share and reflect on how God has worked and moved in their lives."
Contributor / Brad Spead
Brad Spead is the Pastor of Worship Arts at Bridge Bible Church in Norton Shores, MI.
As a worship pastor who has served at multiple churches, I have had two radically different experiences when it comes to my team of volunteers: I have built a small core team from the ground up and then I have inherited large groups of volunteers. I much prefer the former to the latter, but there are positives and negatives to both. Though not as easy sometimes, working with a large volunteer base can be done very well if you understand a certain set of principles to work within. I will compare and contrast a few of the things that I have learned in working with a large team as opposed to a small team, in hopes that this will be helpful.
A few things to remember when working with a large team:
With A Larger Church Comes A Larger Team
This might sound self-explanatory, but the first time I inherited a large group of volunteers on my team I found myself being incredibly frustrated that so many people were let onboard. What I didn't take into consideration was the size of the church. I had come from a church of 200 with an awesome core team of about 10 total (production, musicians, and vocalists) to a church of about 900 with a team of closer to 35. While I was frustrated at the amount of people and with what I perceived to be a lack of commitment, I didn't take into consideration that the percentage of worship ministry volunteers to members at the larger church was roughly the exact same percentage that I had at the smaller one. So the point here is to simply know this: if you inherit a team at a larger sized church, you will inherit a larger team. Don't fight it. Work with what you have. The answer is not to just go around kicking people off the team or creating unreasonable expectations so that they bow out on their own, but the answer lies in learning how to embrace it and thrive in that larger structure.
Learn to Adopt Methods That Work Better in a Larger Organizational Structure
The same methods that you used in managing a smaller team will not often work in a larger setting. For example: one thing that was great about having a smaller group was that at any given rehearsal or pre-service meeting I could cast vision for the ministry. Everyone would hear it because most, if not all, of the team would be present. It was fantastic! This meant that doing devotionals in a series, or even going through a book of the bible together at mid-week rehearsals, was all possible and everyone was able to stay on the same page. This is simply not a possibility in a larger volunteer environment where everyone is on rotation. I currently have a volunteer bench of just over 40 people. On any given Sunday, only about 10 at a time are serving at once. This means that things I cover at rehearsal with one week will never be heard with the rest of the team. This creates a necessity for team nights. A place where all of the volunteers can connect and get to know people that they may never have a chance to serve with (2 bass players, for instance). Team nights also create a place for me to cast vision, dive into the word together, and to make sure we are all on the same page. Small changes like this and ones like them makes the world of difference and are absolutely necessary.
Technology Is Your Friend
I used to be able to just text my team each week and e-mail them the songs we are doing. Everyone showed up, no questions asked. Unless someone told me otherwise, I expected them to be available every single week. If I wanted to have lunch with a volunteer, I would call them, we would set a time and place, and I would go. Everything happened very organically and I didn’t' have to think about it much. My teammates were also my best friends and we were in constant communication.
This is a stark contrast from what happens in a large team setting. The same methods of communication do not work unless you want to drown. Planning Center becomes not just a nice tool to have but an absolute necessity. Using a calendar to strategically schedule lunches and breakfasts with volunteers weeks and months in advance becomes of the utmost importance. Facebook groups, groupme, slack, and other group resources are an invaluable tool as well. All of these technological means of communication are neccecary to have proper and continual communication with your team. The reality is that you won't be as close with everyone as you would be in a small team setting, so don't be afraid of new ways of communicating. Stress the importance of them to your team and use them relentlessly. Plan your schedule out intentionally and plan ahead! Technology keeps us organized but we have to use it for that to happen. If you fly by the seat of your pants, people will always fall through the cracks.
The Commitment Level Will Be Much Lower -- FIGHT THIS!
A larger structure breeds a culture of slackers. The mere fact that people don't know you as well personally means they will be much less committed to your leadership. Make every effort to get to know them on a deeper level. The fact that there is a larger bench to pull from means that people will not feel bad at all about being unavailable to serve. Follow up with those who decline. Ask them why and let them know you really need them to be available. The fact that people will naturally be scheduled less will make them see it as much less of a priority. Give them opportunities to stay involved outside of Sundays. Fight this by having team nights, hang outs, training nights, engaging in conversation, or asking them for advice in their areas of expertise. Just because people aren't serving doesn’t mean you don’t need to pour into them so that they still view using their gifts for the body of Christ as necessary. Lastly, stress the priority of commitment by insisting on Church Membership before serving. This will help them understand how gifts are to work in the body of Christ. This will help them to understand that they are absolutely needed and vital to making sunday mornings happen!
Set High Expectations
While someone may not be scheduled more than once a month, make sure that people are available much more than that. Let people know that you need them to be available and always willing to serve. Their availability will mean that they will be thought of first when there are gaps, above those who have less of a commitment. Usually these high expectations have a way of working themselves out to where people with a lower commitment will eventually weed themselves out anyways.
Don't Give In to Preference
Often in a small team everyone chips in with vision; everyone plays a part in shaping the direction of the team. This can't always be the case in a large team. You will go absolutely crazy if you start trying to appease everyone's ideas on the team. Know your convictions, know where the Lord has placed you and where He is leading you, and stick to that. Always be open to feedback, but that does not mean that you have to live by it.
"Know your convictions, know where the Lord has placed you and where He is leading you, and stick to that."
Get to Know Your Team Well
A larger team does not give you an excuse to be impersonal. You are a shepherd. Your team is your immediate flock. Shepherd them well. Get to know them. Pray for them. Pray with them. Read the Word with them. Have lunch with them. Hang out with them. Learn their hobbies and take interest in what they love. While you'll never get to know everyone on a BFF level, your efforts in this area will make you a trustworthy leader and someone that people are willing to invest in following, assuming of course that you first follow Christ, which brings us to this:
Lead from the Word of God and Nowhere Else
Anything that you do, if it's not intentional with a reason found in scripture, don't do it. If you are ever going to say anything from the stage, let it be from the Bible. When casting vision, use scripture. When choosing songs, choose biblical ones that communicate deep theological truths. Your team should know that above anything else — any gear, any band, any musical style, any cool guitar — you value the Word of God. You value Christ Jesus, and everything else is secondary. While you may think you have great ideas and people might follow your own devices for a season, these will never stick. The Word of God, however, is the only thing that we are promised will not return void. What you bring people in with is what you'll keep them with. Anything short of the Word of God is a failure to biblically disciple a team and a congregation. And lastly...
No One Will Care As Much As You Do, So Be A Shepherd
There is a reason that you have been given the position of leadership that you have. The Lord knows your gifts and abilities and has placed you where you are because of this. You have this unique gift to offer Christ's Church, so naturally you will be the primary champion of it. We cannot expect everyone to be as excited about worship ministry as its leaders, but that doesn't mean we don't strive to get everyone's excitement level up to ours! Yes, it will be frustrating and yes you will feel alone sometimes, but that's part of the calling. I think of David, the great shepherd king of the Old Testament. The care that he put into his flock was relentless. Yet still did they at times wander astray. I think of the love of a parent for their child. The child will never understand why the parent does some things, but will one day realize that it was for their protection, for their growth, and so that they may thrive. Your team members are your children. Love them, shepherd them, lead them, care for them, disciple them, because at times you will be the only person doing so. When you study the life of real life shepherds, it becomes so clear why over and over again the Bible uses this imagery in reference to ministry. When a sheep is prone to wander, a good shepherd will often break the leg of the sheep who strays, and nurtures it back to health so that it may learn not to stray. It learns who its caretaker is. You are the caretaker, the steward rather, of God's flock manifested in your team. It will be incredibly tough. There are times you might have to figuratively break someone's leg and have the difficult conversations with them, but it is the task we are called to do. In a team of any size, large, medium, or small, we are called to love our people sacrificially and to give them what they need, not just what they want. So shepherd them. As Christ, the head of the Church is our true and better shepherd king; we are the under shepherds that He has called to take care of His flock.
"In a team of any size, large, medium, or small, we are called to love our people sacrificially and to give them what they need, not just what they want."
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32)
Contributor / Matt Wagner
Matt Wagner is the Worship Pastor at Woodside Bible Church in Royal Oak, MI and serves as a Worship Leader with ONElife Worship.
I have had the privilege (and sometimes the burden) of having served and transitioned in and out of four different churches since the Lord called me to ministry. In each of these cases, I have inherited a pre-existing worship ministry, and was tasked with breathing new vision and direction into it. Each situation has had its own positives and negatives. In this article, I will highlight nine tips for a healthy transition. Hopefully they will be helpful to you! Keep in mind, this will apply specifically to transitions where you are taking on a pre-existing ministry, not ones where you are starting from scratch. I'm often sinfully envious of my friends who have had the opportunity to plant and start ministries from the ground up, but my experiences have always been a bit of a song and a dance at a steady pace to implement vision.
Here are a few key things that I have learned:
1. Work With What You Have
This may sound simple, but always use whatever processes, resources, and team members that are already in place when you first take leadership of the role. I usually give myself about a month before making any major changes. This helps me assess what truly needs to be changed vs what I am just eager in the flesh about. It also helps establish relationships and trust with the servants who have been carrying out the work of ministry before you arrived.
2. Small Changes Are Okay
Hopefully this doesn't sound contradictory to my previous point, but quick initial changes that are small are important to set the expectation for your team. While not making any crazy drastic changes builds trust, making smaller changes shows that you do have a vision and that change will happen, but not all at once. It will help people trust that you are a confident leader instead of a passive one. These changes need to be assessed to make sure they are necessary and also that they are not too big. For example: One of the things that I have experienced in most new situations is that often times people will have their lyrics formatted to show huge chunks of the song on the screen at once. This is a quick and easy change for me to implement a new standard that we will only show 2-4 lines on the screen at once. Sure, your ProPresenter person might complain that they have to click more now, but the explanation of aiming for better clarity in the content of the lyrics that we sing will help team members understand why the change was made. Like I said, make small changes that are necessary, but won't create distrust or make people feel like you're going somewhere they can't follow.
"While not making any drastic changes builds trust, making smaller changes shows that you do have a vision and that change will happen."
3. Use Songs the Church Knows Well
The absolute worst thing you can do is to come into a place and add a new song every week. People will feel left in the dust and unable to follow your leadership. Now, certain songs are out there that are completely unbiblical and are actually terrible to put on the lips of the flock. When that is the case, I would take them off the list right away — don't sacrifice your theological convictions for the sake of comfort. But if there are songs that you maybe just don’t "like" that the body has been singing lately, learn to make a bit of a compromise. Introduce songs that you want slowly as time progresses and take those ones that are not your favorites off the list. The key is gradual morphing. In the beginning, I try not to introduce more than one new song in a month. The church I just came on staff at has a pretty short song list and loves the song 'What a Beautiful Name.' They sing it all the time. I have a theological issue with the second verse that says: "you didn't want heaven without us." I believe it paints a picture of a God this insufficient without us or that desperately needs us to be happy. This of course is not the case with God, and I would hate to cause any theological confusion or ambiguity for the congregation. So, instead of killing the song, I changed the lyric in the second verse to: "Into Your presence you have called us... Jesus you brought heaven down." Same flow and rhythm scheme, better theology. But I didn't have to sacrifice a song that our people already know and love and respond to in a great way. These types of practices can be very helpful when trying to trudge through transitions in song selection.
"Don't sacrifice your theological convictions for the sake of comfort."
4. Get to Know Your Team
I can't stress this one enough. As I'm writing this, I have just come on staff at a new church this week. I'm about to start my workday and the first thing I'm going to do is to open up my calendar, open up my team list in Planning Center, and reach out to each one of them to schedule a coffee or lunch over the next two months. Plain and simple, people will not follow a leader they do not know. Now, in this case I've got about 40 volunteers that I need to connect with, so it will take some time (20 weeks precisely if I meet with two people per week), but don't let that be overwhelming. It will be worth it.
"Plain and simple, people will not follow a leader they do not know — make every effort to get to know your team."
Something that goes hand-in-hand with this:
5. Don't Add New Team Members
You're already trying to get to know everyone relationally, trust me, you don't want new people to add to that list yet. Now in my current case, my new church has had 10 people on a list to audition for the team and this list was already in place months before I came on board. They were just waiting for someone to come on staff to audition them. Long story short, I'll be having auditions in two weeks. So, there are certainly exceptions, but unless it’s a specific circumstance like that, I would wait to add people.
6. Have A Process for Adding New Team Members
This is huge. Once you reach a place where you'd like to begin adding new team members, have a process. Have auditions, an application form, an online request system, etc. There are many ways to do it, but if it is all done in an informal way, it's easy to show partiality and for people to fall through the cracks. I've done my process a few different ways, but a few key things that I always make sure are in there are:
7. Cast Big Vision Before Making Big Changes
When it's time for bigger changes, don't just make the changes but cast the vision well. This is extremely important. Once you have reached a place where you'd like to implement bigger, more drastic changes, don't just surprise people! Communication is key. Have a "vision night," or a "team night," where you can share the biblical premise and the heart behind the changes you're going to make. Notice: the changes will still happen. You're not asking for permission, rather you're helping people understand why these changes will make a difference and what purpose they serve to point people to Christ.
"When it's time to make big changes, don't just make the changes, but cast the vision well."
8. Develop A Healthy Relationship with Your Lead Pastor
Satan loves to put seeds of distrust between the worship leader and the lead pastor. They work together very closely to plan and execute Sunday mornings and to shepherd God's people. So, if this relationship is built on distrust of one another, it can easily become a huge frustration and a microcosm for division within the church as a whole. Paul warns us strictly about these types of divisions in the body. The best word here is fight. Fight for good communication. Clarity. Complete honesty. Pray for your pastor every day. Pray for that relationship every day. Ask for humility. And be open to critique with one another, understanding that honest critique is for the growth of the flock, not our egos.
9. Build Your Ministry on the Word of God
This is the single most important thing you can do. Nothing is more hollow and empty than a worship leader who has all these ideas, all these cool songs he wants to sing, and a desire for excellence if he is not rooted in the Word. I start every single rehearsal by opening up God's word and reading a passage together, then praying for one another. During a worship service, If I'm going to say anything at all to our congregation, it is not worth saying unless it's from the Bible. Let every idea, every practice, and every philosophy that you implement have deep roots in scripture. Otherwise it's just entertainment. Be bold in your convictions. Understand how to differentiate between preference and essentials. If a ministry is founded on Christ and on His word, these things become much more clear.
"Let every idea, every practice, and every philosophy that you implement have deep roots in scripture."
Contributor / Matt Wagner
Matt Wagner is the Worship Pastor at Woodside Bible Church in Royal Oak, MI and serves as a Worship Leader with ONElife Worship.
It seems to become a more and more frequent response. I don’t know if it’s a the result of the church reflecting culture more, a desire to not appear ‘judgey’, or just a general lack of biblical knowledge. It sadly seems though that any discussion of right vs wrong when it comes to our actions within a church service is supposed to stop when placed under the umbrella of ‘their heart is in the right place.’ Whether it’s in relation to singing songs with questionable theology, singing secular songs in church, preaching something of a self-help message rather than the gospel, the list can go on and on (and I'm sure you’ve had or heard of this discussion before).
I understand the desire to fall back on this; we want to think the best of people, we don’t like confrontation, it’s easier to just ‘have grace’ in these situations. But while we are called to grace, we are also called to truth — both/and, not either/or.
"While we are called to grace, we are also called to truth — both/and, not either/or."
‘But it’s not hurting anyone.’
‘But we like that song.’
‘But the sermon makes me feel good.’
‘But their heart is in the right place.’
But the problem is when we compromise truth for what is easy or fun or pleases others, people do get hurt. We may not always see it immediately, but if you are a worship pastor/leader in any regard, your calling is to shepherd the flock.
"When we compromise truth for what is easy, or fun, or pleases others, people get hurt."
There was another worship leader and shepherd who you could make this argument about too. Take a minute to read about him now:
"David consulted with the commanders of thousands and of hundreds, with every leader. And David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you and from the Lord our God, let us send abroad to our brothers who remain in all the lands of Israel, as well as to the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasturelands, that they may be gathered to us. Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” All the assembly agreed to do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people.
So David assembled all Israel from the Nile of Egypt to Lebo-hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. And David and all Israel went up to Baalah, that is, to Kiriath-jearim that belongs to Judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord who sits enthroned above the cherubim. And they carried the ark of God on a new cart, from the house of Abinadab, and Uzzah and Ahio were driving the cart. And David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, with song and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets.
And when they came to the threshingfloor of Chidon, Uzzah put out his hand to take hold of the ark, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he put out his hand to the ark, and he died there before God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken out against Uzzah. And that place is called Perez-uzza to this day. And David was afraid of God that day, and he said, “How can I bring the ark of God home to me?” So David did not take the ark home into the city of David, but took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. And the ark of God remained with the household of Obed-edom in his house three months. And the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he had." (1 Chron. 13:1-14)
When David set out to bring the Ark of the Covenant back, you could easily make the statement that his heart was in the right place- he desired for God’s presence to return to Jerusalem, so the Israelites could worship their God when/where they were supposed to. He had the support of commanders of thousands and hundreds, of every leader, and all the people went with him and "it was right in there eyes."
But Uzzah was still struck dead by the Lord. Why?
Exodus 37:4-5 "And he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold and put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry the ark." (emphasis mine)
The Ark was central to Israel’s worship, and God had given them instructions on how to transport the Ark; carry it. David instead chose to move it on a new cart. One of the oxen stumbled and Uzzah (who I imagine, had his heart in the right place too) reached out to stop the Ark from falling into the dirt and was struck dead.
David, because of his zeal for the Lord and desire to see the ark return to Jerusalem, thought he could do things a better way, and someone lost their life over it. David’s heart was in the right place, but was his head in the right place?
"It’s not enough for our hearts alone to be in the right place because the heart is deceitful above all things."
And the means to transport the Ark wasn’t a mystery. There was no hidden password or secret handshake to gain this information, it was plainly explained in Exodus, part of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), which David would have grown up hearing read in the synagogue and meditated on. Either he missed that extremely important detail, or he thought he could do it better another way. What’s worse, in all his council with the commanders of thousands and hundreds, in presenting the idea to all of Israel, did not 1 person speak up with the truth of how God had told them to carry the ark? We don’t know for sure one way or the other, but the important detail is that because David used his heart over his head a man lost his life.
‘But wait, this was in the Old Testament, so how can you say this applies to us today?’
Because Jesus reinforced this in John 4 when he met the Samaritan woman at the well. While the New Testament doesn’t give many details or prescriptions for Christian worship it is very clear on this point;
"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)
It’s not enough for our hearts alone to be in the right place because "the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9a)." Our heads need to be in the right place. But in the same way it’s not enough for us to simply have the right knowledge if it doesn’t move us to worship. If David had said ‘the Ark must be moved with the proper carrying poles’ and then didn’t bring the Ark back to Jerusalem he still would have been in error. For our worship to be acceptable before God it must be how He prescribes it.
"It's not enough for us to simply have the right knowledge if it doesn't move us to worship."
Spirit AND truth.
Head AND heart.
Both/and, not either/or.
In some ways David was fortunate because he was able to witness the repercussions of his error immediately when Uzzah was struck dead. This led him to be able to fix his mistake in 1 Chronicles 15 by doing it the right way.
Worship leaders and pastors, we won’t always get that same chance. If we choose to sing songs with poor/wrong theology it will impact the lives of our people in ways we can’t imagine. If we choose to try and ‘wow’ the crowd with warm, fuzzy, feel-good messages rather than clearly present the gospel, there may be souls in the seats of our service who spend eternity separated from God. At that time, it won’t matter if our heart was in the right place. I’m sure those words would not have comforted Uzzah’s family or friends had someone tried to reassure them that way.
"For our worship to be acceptable before God it must be how He prescribes it."
So as a brother in Christ, who loves the church, loves Jesus, and loves you, I plead with you today— yes, make sure your heart is in the right place, but make sure that that place is falling in line with your head. And above all else, make sure your head is filled with the knowledge of the word of God; His truth, His wisdom, His commands. Meditate on them, memorize them, delight in them with your mind, and then your heart will be in the right place.
"Bless the Lord oh my soul, and forget not all his benefits…" (Psalm 103:2)
Contributor / Brad Spead
Brad Spead is the Pastor of Worship Arts at Bridge Bible Church in Norton Shores, MI.
If you've been in ministry for any amount of time, you've undoubtedly been faced with conflict. Maybe someone sinned against you personally, or maybe someone on your team was living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin. Either way, where there are people, there is sin, and where there is sin, there is conflict. The question, then, is how have we handled conflict with our team members? It often plays out in one of two ways:
It's been said that "all truth and no grace is brutality, whereas all grace and no truth is hypocrisy." This could not be more true. After all, Jesus was full of both grace and truth (John 1:14). So, when a situation arises, how do we find that balance of being filled with both grace and truth? How do we handle the issue at hand in a way that honors God and respects the person we are admonishing? Fortunately God's Word, which is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16)," has given us a blueprint for conflict resolution in our ministries!
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matt. 18:15-27 ESV)
The plan Jesus laid out here in Matthew 18 is what has historically been referred to as "Church Discipline." This is the biblical way of dealing with conflict in a way that honors God and respects the brothers and sisters who have been entrusted to our care.
Our first step to resolving conflict with someone, as seen in verse 15, is to engage that person in a one-on-one dialogue -- "go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained a brother." Truth be told, this is where 90% of situations are resolved, if you enter into the dialogue with humility.
For those of you who may be more on the introverted spectrum like me, yes, that means you actually have to talk to someone about the problem you believe exists between the two of you! You know that lie you tell yourself, the one that says the situation will "work itself out with time?" It won't. Our Lead Pastor, Eric Stewart, has always said a good rule of thumb as to whether or not you need to engage someone in such a dialogue is if you've thought about a supposed offense twice. If you've thought about it more than once, you need to give that person a call, immediately. Here's why: the more we think about a presumed offense without having talked to the offending party, the more prone we are to jump to conclusions and subsequently make the situation much worse in our heads than it is in reality. That's what having all that time to stew in it affords us. Let me assure you, avoiding conflict for the sake of comfort is the most unloving thing that you or I could do to the people entrusted to our care.
"Avoiding conflict for the sake of comfort is the most unloving we could do to the people entrusted to our care."
Extroverts, you're not in the clear either. While us introverts are prone to hope the situation fixes itself and thus leave it unaddressed, many extroverts boldly march up to the person and drop the hammer of judgement. This comes across as "holier than thou" at best and is actually bearing false witness at its worst. Introverted or extroverted, here is the best thing we can do when coming face to face with someone we feel has sinned against us or is living in unrepentant sin -- seek understanding. That's right, before we seek to be understood, we must first humble ourselves and seek understanding. As I mentioned before, the more we think about the situation, the more prone we are to build on this elaborate scheme of how this person intentionally did "this" or "that" to us, which usually isn't the case at all. So, before casting judgment and demanding an apology, we just first humble ourselves and seek to understand their point of view. Again, 90% of the time, this is where the situation resolves itself. Take that first step towards reconciliation!
"Before we seek to be understood, we must first humble ourselves and seek understanding."
Two or Three Witnesses (v. 16)
"But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses."
Inevitably, there will be times when that initial one-on-one meeting does not go well. With the hope of restoring our brother or sister, Jesus tells us in verse 16 that our next step is to bring forward two or three witnesses to go with us to once again appeal to the offending party. What is the significance of two or three witnesses? Jesus here is citing the Levitical Law concerning witnesses, which is found in Deuteronomy 19:15:
"A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that has been committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established."
It must be noted that there is a subtle difference between the Levitical Law concerning witnesses and what Jesus is implicating here though; Jesus is not instructing us to bring in two or three witnesses to testify against our brother who we believe to be living in unrepentant sin, but rather to testify to the exchange between us and our brother. We are all fallible. There is always a chance that we did not handle that initial one-on-one meeting as well as we had hoped/could have/thought we did. Maybe in our fleshly pride we came quick with judgement. Maybe we didn't seek to truly understand this brother or sister. At any rate, the best thing we can do here is bring two or three witnesses into the situation to testify to the exchange. In the ideal situation, these would be two or three people who could step into the dialogue unbiasedly, yet those the offending party both respects and has confidence in. These witnesses testify to one of two things; either this person is in the wrong and needs to repent, or we ourselves misjudged the situation and ought to repent and seek the forgiveness from the individual whom we bore false witness against.
The Church (v. 17a)
"If he refused to listen to them, tell it to the church."
In the event that our witnesses affirm that the offending party is in fact living in sin and reprove them, yet the individual resists their wise counsel and continues on in sin, Jesus tells us we are to "tell it to the church." If this person has refused your counsel and refused the counsel of two or three witnesses, we need to let the rest of the church body know what's going on. Let me tell you what this doesn't mean though; it doesn't mean that we give out the explicit details of this person's sin and demonize them before the entire body. No! However, we must let the body know that one of our counterparts is living in unrepentant sin and needs our help. We then encourage the church members to reach out to this person, to love on them, and to beg of them to return to God and to what His Word prescribes.
The goal here is not to shame someone. On the contrary! Our hope and our prayer is always reformation and restoration -- that this person would turn away from their sin and fix their eyes upon Jesus! Through it all we must remember that we, too, are sinners in need of Jesus' saving grace just as much as the person we're exhorting.
"When we address someone living in unrepentant sin, we must remember that we too are sinners in need of Jesus' saving grace just as much as they are."
A Gentile and Tax Collector (v. 17b)
"And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and tax collector."
If after three attempts to reconcile with this person they still continue in their sin, Jesus tells us we need to let them be to us "as a Gentile and tax collector." "Gentile" was a name Israel gave to all the other nations who did not heed the counsel of God; they had no fellowship or religious affiliation with such nations. Similarly, "Tax Collectors" were considered to be a group of abandoned character who the Jews would also have no contact with. The thought here is that living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin is not the mark of one of God's children, contrastingly it is the mark of an unbeliever. Jesus is actually saying that this person needs to be disowned as a Christian brother or sister because they're not living as one. In fact, they're living in such a way that it appears they are still dead in their transgressions and sin.
The New Testament often refers to the church as the body of Christ, each person being just one part of the overall body (1 Cor. 12:27, Rom. 12:4-5, Eph. 4:14-15). Now, let's cross reference that with an analogy of the human body: If one part your body is dead and not functioning as it should be, to leave it attached to the rest of your body would have catastrophic ramifications -- inevitably infection would set in throughout your entire body and in time you would die. So, that dead body part must be cut off to preserve the rest of your life. And so it is with the church, the body of Christ. Albert Barnes once said, "This is the only way of kindness. This is the only way to preserve peace and purity in the church." While we are to regard this person as an unbeliever, it doesn't mean we shouldn't pray for them daily though, it doesn't mean we should be unkind to them when we run into them at the gym or grocery store, and it certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't assist them in their time of need. On the contrary, Jesus has called us to do all of the above (1 Tim. 2:1-4, Col. 4:5-6, Matt. 5:42)!
A Real Life Testimony
Growing up in the church and having been a pastor for over three years now, I've only ever seen this path of biblical conflict resolution be taken to its end once, and it was actually a relative of mine. The church this individual was a member of followed the steps Jesus laid out in Matthew 18:15-17 to resolve some unrepentant sin; my relative refused the wise counsel of the individual, refused the witnesses, refused the church, and was ultimately put out of the hand of fellowship. But that wasn't the end... It was less than two weeks after the church leaders were obedient to God's Word when the Spirit swept in and utterly broke this person's heart over their sin and subsequently brought them to full repentance. It's been five years since then and this individual's relationship with Jesus and His Church has never been more vibrant!
There is hope in the midst of conflict, friends. Trust Jesus and be obedient to His Word. It will be uncomfortable, it will be difficult, and it will be criticized by others, but God will be glorified (1 Sam. 15:22) and He will ultimately work all things together "for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
Contributor / Dan Dameron
Dan Dameron is the Pastor of Gathering at ONElife Church in Flint, MI and Founder of ONElife Worship.
'Rock of Ages (Seated High),' written by Augustus Toplady and Matt Wagner, is the latest song to be released from ONElife Worship's forthcoming debut EP. This is the Theology Behind the Song.
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me
From the very first line of this great hymn, we see the Lord referred to as the “Rock of Ages” who was “cleft for me.” This simple line speaks to the eternality of God, the constancy of His character, and his steadfastness -- like a rock upon which we can rely. Not only that, it explains that this very rock, Christ Jesus, the Cornerstone Himself was “cleft” for us, meaning that He was broken for us. As a rock that is cleft is split in two, or chipped apart, so the body of Christ was beaten and broken to the point of death for us -- in our place. Instead of us being cleft, which is what we deserve, Christ the Rock was cleft. This is a savior in whom we can truly trust and find refuge in! We can hide ourselves in His rest.
“Let the water and the blood,
The blood that flowed from Christ, that was poured out on the cross for us, is truly a double cure. The first part is that by His blood we are saved from wrath; God the father chooses to withhold His wrath from us though we deserve it, and instead pours it out on Christ, the Son. The second part is that He no longer sees our own unrighteousness but sees the righteousness of Christ. Jesus' blood covers us and “makes us pure” in the eyes of the Father. In this single line we see the doctrine of imputed righteousness.
“Not the labor of my hands
No work of our own can account for our salvation. No labor of our hands is ever good enough to make us righteous in the eyes of the Lord. Only the righteousness of Christ can atone!
“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-26)
"Seated high on His throne of grace
This is the God that we look to. The God that we worship is seated upon His throne! By His grace He has saved. We rest in this, knowing that our hope for eternity is in sacrifice that Christ made for us. The Risen Jesus is now seated at the right hand of the father for eternity, interceding on our behalf.
“Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)
"Nothing in my hand I bring,
When God regenerates us and opens our eyes, our utterly helpless state is realized. We realize that our only hope for salvation is to cling to the cross of Jesus. It is by our clinging to Christ and His cross in our trials, in our sufferings, and in joy, that we are sanctified, that is refined more and more into the image of God, and thus grow in spiritual maturity (Luke 9:23).
"While I draw this fleeting breath,
The first part of the song spoke to our justification by the blood of Christ. The second part spoke to the necessity of clinging to the cross daily for sanctification. and now we look forward to eternity with the Godhead in our glorified state!
This last verse looks forward to our beautiful hope of glorification. Glorification encompasses our moral perfection upon leaving this life (2 Thess 2:13-14; Heb 2:10-11), it includes our liberty and deliverance from these earthly bodies along with their sickness and physical ailments to our glorified body, which is immortal (Rom 2:7), imperishable, powerful, and spiritual (1 Cor 15:43-44). Additionally, glorification brings participation in the kingdom of God (1 Thess 2:12), even to the point of our reigning with Christ (2 Tim 2:10-12) and lastly includes partaking in God's own glory (Rom 5:2; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Thess 2:14; 1 Peter 5:10)!
Contributors / Matt Wagner & Dan Dameron
I apologize for the click-bait title. I hate click-bait with a passion, but it felt appropriate because it seems to be a frequent question; "How do I get my people to be more responsive?" I’m sure we’ve all been there at one time or another:
And you look out into the congregation to discover they were replaced with extras from a zombie film. So what gives? Don’t they know how much prep work you put into the service? Don’t they realize WHO you are singing to?
If you clicked on this article I imagine it was for one of 2 reasons- either you really do want a quick fix for this problem (sorry, there isn’t one, but I will give you 3 steps on how to work towards a solution), or you thought to yourself ‘this guy really thinks you can MAKE people respond physically in worship? I can’t wait to read his article and tear it apart in the comment section!’ Either way, I hope that you keep reading, because I genuinely do believe that these 3 things can help bring about a change in culture within your church and your people.
STEP 1: Point your people to Jesus
I’ve heard it more times than I can remember; a well-meaning church member or fellow worship team member comes up to me after the service and thanks me for ‘leading them into the throne room’. While I understand the sentiment, and there were times in the past I would use this terminology, it’s completely wrong.
In the Old Testament the people of Israel could not enter the Holy of Holies and stand in the presence of God for themselves, they needed the high priest to serve as a mediator to enter on their behalf. The priests would be in charge of carrying out the sacrifices for the purification of the people of Israel and for themselves, and this needed to happen over and over because of their fallen, sinful nature. However, once Jesus died on the cross, taking on the role of both priest and sacrifice, He made a “new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Hebrews 10:20). And because Jesus now stands as the great high priest who lived a sinless life, the sacrifice to purify us has happened once and for all (Hebrews 4:15, 7:27).
We can draw near to the throne of grace with confidence ONLY because of the atoning work of Jesus- worship leaders could never hope to fill this role. The best possible thing we can do is point our church family to the beauty of the gospel and the beauty of the savior we worship. As worship leaders, we aren’t the spectacle, we are the tour guide- we should not strive to be what holds the attention of the church on Sunday morning, we should be pointing with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength to the only One who is glorious enough to hold our gaze for all of eternity.
"As worship leaders, we aren't the spectacle, we are the tour guide."
So if you walk onto the platform on Sunday feeling the stress of needing to lead your congregation into the presence of God, REJOICE! Because it’s already been done by the someone who is far more able to do it.
Or if you walk onto the platform thinking that you hold the power to draw people into the throne room, humble yourself before the Lord and repent of trying to elevate yourself to the level of Christ. Let us never try and take credit for a work we could never accomplish.
STEP 2: Teach them WHY, not HOW
Scripture is full of examples of physical response to worship;
However, do your people know that these verses exist? When you encourage them to be physically responsive in worship, do you just tell them what to do, or do you take time to explain why we do it? I work in a heavily-churched area with many people who grew up in denominations where physical expressiveness was frowned upon. If you’re shepherding people like this it becomes all the more important to teach them lovingly and strongly what God asks of us in worship.
Conversely, if you’re in a church or area where people are already physically expressive it’s important to teach them what God’s word says about it. If all they know is ‘this is the part of the song where I’m supposed to raise my hands’ then we’re no better than a zumba instructor leading the spiritual macarena on stage. Physical expressiveness can be a huge blessing to the church body, but can also be a distraction when it gets out of hand (no pun intended).
Whatever your role is within your church, when you step onto the platform you are taking on the responsibility of shepherding and caring for your people. Don’t be tempted to resort to guilt-tripping or emotional manipulation to get the response you want to see- instead teach them why we respond the way we do, and point them to Jesus so they have something to respond to.
"Don’t be tempted to resort to guilt-tripping or emotional manipulation to get the response you want to see- instead teach them why we respond the way we do, and point them to Jesus so they have something to respond to."
STEP 3: Pray For Your Senior Pastor
This one may come as a surprise to you, but I truly believe it’s one of the greatest things you can do for the health of your church’s worship. I began feeling convicted of falling short in this area a little over a year ago, and have made an effort to step up in it since then. Think about your senior pastors week in comparison with yours;
We carry our own kind of stress and responsibility with us each Sunday, but our senior pastor carries more. Paul tells us in James 3 that “...(those) who teach will be judged with greater strictness” and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 lays out the biblical qualifications for a pastor or elder. It’s a high standard to held to.
Your senior pastor needs your prayer, and you need to pray for him. Why?
Because for as much as you can point people to Jesus, he can and should do it even more. For as much as you can teach the body during the time of sung worship, he can and should do it more in his sermon. For as great as the congregation thinks you are (or aren’t) they’re often holding him to a higher standard.
So pray for your senior pastor. Every week. Put it on your calendar, set a reminder in your phone, write it backwards on your forehead so you’ll see it in the mirror- do whatever it takes to make it a priority, and know that the enemy will do whatever he can to keep you from it.
Pray that he will preach the gospel boldly and clearly. Pray that God will remove anything from his message that could be a hindrance or distraction from the gospel being proclaimed. Pray that he will fall more and more deeply in love with Jesus and that the scriptures will remain fresh and new for him each time he goes to the word.
"When we dwell on Christ’s word, His character, and His commands, we will see Him for who He is and we won’t be able to keep ourselves from worshipping Him.
Because when these things happen, when the pastor preaches clearly and truthfully, it stirs the hearts and minds of the church. And when our hearts and minds are stirred towards Jesus allowing his word to dwell in us richly (Colossians 3:16) then we will see our churches begin to change. When we dwell on Christ’s word, His character, and His commands, we will see Him for who He is and we won’t be able to keep ourselves from worshipping Him. This is true, lasting, biblical change for your church. It may not look how we expect or want it to look, but we will see it. It won’t happen in 20 minutes of singing, but you may start to see it over 20 weekends of gathered corporate worship.
Contributor / Brad Spead
Brad Spead is the Pastor of Worship Arts at Bridge Bible Church in Norton Shores, MI.
In this blog entry, Matt Wagner of ONElife Worship gives us an in depth look at his keys rig!
Matt's Rig At A Glance
Hopefully this gives you an idea of the possibilities you have when running a midi-controlled keys rig through Ableton Live.
If you have an questions about what you saw in this video, or if you have a video request as it pertains to keys, let us know in the comments below!
Contributor / Matt Wagner
Matt Wagner is the Worship Pastor at Woodside Bible Church in Royal Oak, MI and serves as a Worship Leader with ONElife Worship.