It’s been a while since I last posted mainly because I started leading worship full time at The Well.
On January 4th, 2013, The Well hosted its first monthly worship night. We are gathering at 7pm on the first Friday of every month for an extended time of worship with a bit of teaching. The service is called REST because we want our community to experience and express worship from a place of resting rather than striving.
Striving in worship appears in different forms, but the root comes from an incomplete revelation of the grace of God. God’s grace is His unmerited (undeserved, unearned) favor toward us. This favor is a guarantee of right relationship with God because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Grace is a gift which can only ever be freely given and freely received.
Worship, by song or prayer, that disregards, ignores or misunderstands this grace begs God to do something for the believer which He has already done. For instance, asking God’s presence to visit us completely ignores Jesus’ statement that He would never leave nor forsake us, and that in His physical absence, He would send the Comforter, His Holy Spirit, to be with us.
Conversely, worship from rest declares and reminds us of God’s nearness and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We rest in the finished work of Jesus and cease our striving to be acceptable to God in worship through our own efforts. He has made us accepted in Christ. God has made us righteous in Christ. Jesus is our all in all. This worship takes our eyes off of ourselves and looks to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.
In this place of worship, we can freely experience God and come to know Him more. We are already cleansed and can fellowship with God as Adam and Eve did in the garden. Interestingly enough, God’s day of rest is the Sabbath which begins at sundown on friday night. God ordained the Sabbath as a day not just for resting, but also for worship. God’s original design of worship is found in rest and only fully realized in Christ Jesus.
So join us and bring a friend! We plan on lingering long in the wonderful revelation of Jesus and the work he has finished.
Have a story about striving or resting in worship? I’d love to hear…
Spontaneous choruses. What are they and how do you use them? First the name is rather self-explanatory. A spontaneous chorus is a chorus which is written and sung in the moment without rehearsal. Developing spontaneous choruses is a skill that comes very naturally to some people. If that’s not you, don’t worry, you can learn how to write and use them effectively. Another option is to delegate chorus writing to a capable vocalist on your team.
As with choruses from existing songs, our spontaneous ones need three things: melody, lyric and a chord progression. Typically, we will borrow an existing chord progression from the song we are singing before the spontaneous chorus. This isn’t always the case, but it is easiest and you need to tell your team if you are planning to use something different. An example of a good chord progression is: C G Am F or I V vi IV. It has a circular motion and is simple enough to create many memorable melodies.
When it comes to melody, we must think of structure. A good melody is easy enough to remember. Catchy is another word that describes good melodies. Spontaneous choruses with hard arduous melodies are not fun for anyone. So in our structure, we must incorporate some repetition. Too much and it will be boring. Too little and will be unfocused. An example of good repetition can be found in the melodic structure we call question and answer.
As children we were taught to raise the inflection of our voice when asking a question. The same is true with this type of melody. The first line ends on a high note (a question). To answer the question we can repeat the melody only ending on a low note instead. Hum the tune Mary had a Little Lamb to yourself. Notice the question and answer structure. What other songs can you think of having a similar melodic structure? We can also call this type of melody: AB.
Following the AB line of thinking, we could create many other melodic structures like: AAAB or ABAC or ABCABC. Be creative and recognize what works well. We will use this same structure for lyrics too. Here’s an example of AAAB:
You are good
You are good
You are good
And Your mercy endures
The first three lines are the same. Same words. Same melody. Only the fourth line is different. This is an example of good repetition with just enough variety. Try creating your own melody with the lyrics and chord progression above.
Moving on to lyrics, scripture is very helpful. Something extremely profound happens when singing the Word. It gets caught in the human spirit and renews the mind. The other consideration is discerning what God is saying in the moment during worship. Holy Spirit will bring scriptures or other words and ideas to our minds if we are listening. Use those thoughts to create a spontaneous chorus.
Now you might be feeling overwhelmed if you’ve never done this before. That’s okay. Give it some time. Meanwhile, you can practice your chorus writing ability with this baby step: modify an existing chorus to express a new meaning. An example of this could be the old chorus I Exalt Thee. Change the “I” to “we”. It’s not a big change, but it could be spontaneous and bring a stronger sense of community to the corporate worship setting.
Another example, singing the chorus from How Great is Our God, change “is our” to “are You”. How great are You God // Lord we sing, how great are You God // and all will sing, how great, how great are You God. This change redirects the focus from singing about God to singing to Him. There are many songs that you could try these two changes on. Practice with those first before trying to launch into a truly spontaneous chorus.
Spontaneous choruses can be used during or in-between songs in worship. Incorporating them into your leading will bring a new dimension of worship and greater awareness of God’s presence and involvement.
Today, I want to share a simple way to introduce spontaneity into the worship service. Repetition. Since spontaneity tends to make people feel uncomfortable, we can bring it into the meeting wearing the cloak of repetition, which tends to be very comforting.
Being spontaneous means that you do something unplanned. Using repetition as our helper, this is as simple as repeating a chorus just because it’s going well. I usually operate from the premise that if it’s going well (or there’s “life” on it) keep doing it. Whether it’s the verse, chorus or bridge, get comfortable repeating them without a plan.
In order to do this well, you will need to communicate to your team and the congregation. If they are not used to anything but the plan, first talk about the idea of spontaneous repetition. Cast vision for it and demystify anything that causes concern or worry. Once the team is on board and you practice some spontaneous repetitions, you’ll be ready to use it in the worship service. If your band can’t follow you, it will most likely create confusion in the congregation.
The next place we can use repetition is with one line of a song. Now instead of repeating the entire verse or chorus, we just repeat one line of it. Which line? The one that the Holy Spirit highlights to you in the moment. For example, the song Tradin’ My Sorrows (I know it’s old, but it was the first example that came to mind) has a line which says, “I’m blessed beyond the curse for His promise will endure.” That’s a great declaration, but in the song we breeze by very fast. It wouldn’t be fun to sing it slow either. So one day, I started repeating just this line. After five or six times, people are beginning to realize the truth they are declaring as it sinks in.
Life generally tells us that we’re not blessed. Well, life is wrong. God’s word says that He has given us every spiritual blessing in Christ. Wow! That’s a lot of blessing. Every one. Being blessed beyond the curse means that my life is not defined by the curse of the law. My life is defined in Christ and I have become his righteousness. Coming to that understanding is all apart of having a renewed mind. I don’t know what it did for the entire congregation that day, but that little repetition has stuck with me all these years.
Help your congregation find meaning in the songs they are singing using this simple technique. Everyone wins, except possibly your video projector operator, but there are lots of good software options that make spontaneous decisions manageable.
What are some of your favorite worship lyrics to declare? Does the music allow for you to repeat that one line?
I find that worship is like surfing. Okay, I don’t really know the first thing about surfing, but I do know that surfers catch and ride waves. Not just one wave either. They do it over and over and over again. That’s what worship is like.
Many times, we settle for riding one wave. Yet, if there was room to wait a little, to linger on, we would surely find that another wave is already coming.
I co-led worship last night and our purpose for that meeting is to go deep and linger long. It’s great having that expectation, because without the unity, it can be hard to sustain lengthy times of corporate worship. We experienced many different waves throughout the night. Waves of great joy and laughter. Waves of dancing and excitement. Waves of passionate cries and yearning. Grace, mercy, healing. It was all flowing in such a powerful, tangible way.
One key to catching and riding the waves is to be free to improvise. It’s easy to plan the roadmap. I’m sure you’ve done that hundreds of times. It would be disheartening for me to say, “Worship went exactly like we practiced.” It can be scary to go off the beaten path, to sing a spontaneous song or release your team to be creative or “messy”. But the more you surrender, the harder it is to want to go back to the program. (It’s not that we don’t plan. We just hold the plan loosely.)
Take time to enjoy God. Don’t rush through the song list. Find out what He is saying in each moment.
Is this a new analogy for you? Or do you “ride the waves”?
God enjoys you.
This is the secret to enjoying God. This is what makes Him enjoyable. Similar to the verse saying, we love God because He first loved us.
Worship is a wonderfully raw and intimate place of enjoying God. Yet, without this foundational truth that God enjoys us, individually and corporately, we won’t experience enjoyment of Him.
I grew up a pastor’s kid. I like to say I was born in the church nursery (I wasn’t, but it’s nice metaphor). I came to know the Lord at a young age, and looking back on my life, I see Him all throughout. However, as much as I loved God and had passion for Him and ministry, I viewed Him as a disappointed piano teacher. I was always practicing, but no matter how much time I spent, I was never perfect. Even when playing my best, there were always a few mistakes.
I knew God loved me. The Bible told me so. I also knew that song well too, and there was a special verse my church used to sing:
Jesus loves me when I’m good
When I do the things I should
Jesus loves me when I’m bad
Though it makes Him very sad
He may not have been mad at me, but He was definitely sad or disappointed with me. My performance was something I had to keep on top of so that God would approve. So that He would be pleased. So He would be happy.
You can imagine my surprise and relief (perhaps a bit of shock too) when I found out that God wasn’t angry, upset, hurt, sad or disappointed with me. He actually liked me. I’ll get to the theological reasons in a second, but first, here’s my experience:
I was doing an internship at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. We did the night-watch for the 24/7 prayer room. Live worship around the clock. It was the best place to be sold out for Jesus. Worship all the time! Finally, people who were like me. Spoke my language. Well, sort of.
Most of my life, I stood out from others because of my musical talents and anointed worship leading. At IHOP, I didn’t stand out at all. In some ways, I didn’t feel like I even got a chance. I was in a place where I was just one of the crowd. Not special. Anything I could do everyone else could do too, and better.
They taught fasting. So I fasted. And then I was hungry. I was losing weight and if you know me, there’s not much to lose. I was feeling depressed. From not eating. From not being special. From not fitting “in”. From being up at night instead of day. I was frustrated with God and my leaders and myself for having immature “unholy” emotional reactions.
But, inasmuch as I didn’t like being in that place, that is exactly where I saw God’s smile over my life. It wasn’t an open eye vision, but it was in my minds eye. A big grin telling me that God didn’t love or like me because I was a worship leader with great talent and anointing. He loved and liked me because I was His child. He had created me and my performance wasn’t part of that equation.
Now, I know my experience isn’t enough to solve the mystery for you. So, here is the theology: Grace. God, in His goodness, became one of us to pay a debt He didn’t owe so that we would receive what we did not deserve: His life and righteousness. Jesus made you righteous (right with God). Since God dealt with all of the sin there ever was and will be in Jesus’ one-time offering, He is no longer mad or sad or disappointed with you or me. Jesus “performance” was good enough. Now we are in Christ and God enjoys us.
“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.” (Ps. 149:4). This is what He has done. Meditate on it. Renew your mind to it. His salvation makes you beautiful.
When have you encountered God’s enjoyment? His kindness? His smile?
Flow. It’s an important thing every worship leader should know how to do. Yet, in my experience, flow isn’t usually something that’s taught. True, some things are easier “caught than taught”, but we still need to talk about it.
So, what is flow? Definitely not a technical term. Flow is the ability to transcend the plan/roadmap/agenda/itemized schedule and be free to adjust on the fly. Flow is what keeps the worship service from feeling stagnant or “going through the motions.” Flow provides momentum like an undercurrent that takes you faster than you can paddle. Flow keeps the worship team and the congregation together in a unified direction. Flow is the satisfying feeling of riding a bike downhill or canoeing downstream. Flow is like flying. When you don’t have it you feel grounded, tied down. Like you’re pulling a load of bricks in a wagon with no wheels (anybody else ever lead a set like that?).
Flow is a release of control. A following of the Spirit.
As with many things in life, flow is something you cultivate in your bedroom when no one is watching. Your personal interaction with the Lord in worship is the place to start. I don’t know anyone who plans a worship set for their personal worship time.
First I’m going to sing… followed by a cool key change… then I’ll wrap up with a remix version of my favorite hymn…
Who does that?
Since worship isn’t really about the songs, all we need to bring is our hearts. The adoration of God’s grace. The thankfulness for His mercy. The expectancy of our hope. Whether spoken, sung, laughed or cried, the movements of our hearts are what move His heart. God’s not impressed with your voice as an artist. It’s not the precise combination of pitch and rhythm that excite Him.
So at home, there’s no performance. Just you and God. Enjoying the presence and love of each other. From this place, what do you do? Maybe sing or say a prayer. What comes next? We have a dialogue. As we minister to God, He ministers to us. His word brings life. It awakens passion, desire or simply peace. Then we respond. And He responds. You get the idea.
Corporate worship can be the same. Should be the same. A wonderful dialogue (aka not a monologue) between God and His people. As the worship leader, we have the ability, even responsibility, to release God’s response for His people.
I should have titled this, “An Introduction to Flow.” I have way too much to say here and now. But let me encourage you to begin practicing flow. Do it at home by yourself. Practice with your friends or worship team. Let your worship become more of a release. Sing spontaneous songs. Be free.
Release your song.
If you’re a worship leader, musician or songwriter (or you really want to be one), this blog is for you. I’m here to encourage your gifts and speak life to your destiny. In pleasure, God created you and wrote you into His story. Like a sweet melody or harmony, or even just a funky rhythm, you are apart of redemption’s song.
More than worship, the Father is looking for worshipers. Those who will know Him and be fully known. Those who will love Him with everything.
So release the worship God placed in your heart. Release the music He has crafted into your being. Release your emotions, your sound and your voice.
Release your song.