Collaborate

If you break down the word “collaborate” into its three sections, co-labor-ate, it seems to have something to do with working together after eating.  If you’ll hang with me for a few paragraphs, I’ll tell you the story of the song “Abide in Me”.
I spent more than a decade working the morning shift at a grocery store.  The morning shift is a bit of a misnomer, because it starts somewhere between 2 and 4 in the morning.  On Sunday mornings, I’d go in early so I could have everything wrapped up in time to have sound check for our Sunday worship celebration at 9.  I was pretty exhausted all of the time, and a few years ago we decided it was time for me to leave the store and get a normal amount of sleep.
For the first few months, I spent a great deal of time in chapter 15 of John, and knew I needed to take a while to abide.  I realized I’d not put myself in a position to hear anything from God for a long time.  Every time i tried to read or pray, I’d fall asleep.  So I learned to abide.
For several months, I set aside a couple of hours every day to read scripture, reflect, pray and listen for God’s voice.  I would sit and be quiet, listening. I realized I needed to rebuild my daily rhythm with God. This went on for about four months, and I became increasingly frustrated because I just wasn’t hearing anything.  I remember saying out loud, “God, I just don’t hear You!”
As soon as I said it, i noticed a bird singing off in the distance.  I remember thinking, “I wish that bird would be quiet!”  Just then, I heard something, not audibly, but I heard it.  God was saying, “Listen to that bird, I’m singing over you.”  That changed my entire perspective!  I immediately felt the anger and frustration begin to wash away.  Scripture started giving me a-ha moments again, and I could see my prayers being answered.  Through spending time abiding, I was again ready to bear good fruit.
A few days later, my friend Sean was speaking at our church.  He’d just returned from a spiritual golf retreat in South Carolina.  I was leading worship at another church that day, but my wife, Linda, wrote down a quote from Sean that hit a strong chord in her heart, echoing something she’d always felt, “It changes everything when you hear His voice.”
So I sat down with my guitar and iPhone to write the song.  After I wrote a version, I shared it with Linda to get her input on the lyrics.  She is really good at clearing things up that I can be nebulous about and getting to the heart of a lyric.  After she edited and re-formed some lyrics, I showed it to my friend Mike, who os the lead pastor of our church.  Since the song is written for groups to sing, I wanted to make sure the lyrics expressed truth and strong theology.  Once I had run it by Mike, I took it to my friend Jason.  He’s a fellow worship leader in our valley with a very strong music theory background.  He suggested some chord changes that made the sound of the song more interesting.
There were five people involved in the writing of Abide in Me before I ever played it for a small or large worship celebration.  By collaborating with friends whose opinions and skills I trust, the finished song was made much clearer and stronger .  Don’t be afraid to share your songwriting work with others.  Having a strong supportive creative community will make songwriting much more fun and fruitful.

Making Unconscious Competence Conscious

Have you heard of unconscious competence? It’s having the practiced skill at something so you don’t have to even think about it when you do it.  I’ve had the opportunity to lead worship many times in many settings for many years.  Along the way, I’ve gained some unconscious competence.  The problem with unconscious competence is that it’s just there and since you don’t think about it, you don’t think about explaining it and sharing it.  In this blogpost, I’m going to share some  things I’ve learned, along with giving  you the opportunity to share and ask questions.

Some of our local worship leaders joined together to be the worship band for an area wide Easter Week worship celebration.

We connect with God and with His people in worship.  These are a few of the practical things I’ve figured out along the way.

Love your people by singing songs in a singable key.  In most cases it will be a little lower than you’re used to, but you’ll have more people engaging if they aren’t pulling a throat muscle trying to sing along.

Enjoy what you’re doing and tell your face.  Open your eyes and smile once in awhile.  Be genuine.  Be yourself.  God loves you and He’s really, really proud of you.

Don’t be afraid of repeating songs.  If a certain song is moving people’s hearts, and you sense the Spirit moving among you, why would you be afraid to sing it a few weeks in a row?  Some songs seem to have a season of anointing or power. Singing heartfelt, familiar songs to Jesus, where they are so familiar people can sing them without looking at the screen; joyful, weeping, kneeling………  Songs like Break Every Chain, Revelation Song and Wonderful make their way into our hearts.  Our kids sing them while they’re outside on the swing set.  Why would we not encourage them by keeping it going?

Dynamics are important.  You need to be aware of what’s going on.  Sometimes, I’ll bring a loud song down to just the people’s voices, with very little instrumentation and repeat a section several times.  It’s a matter of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and our hearts.  It’s not mystical and mysterious, but it is Spirit led.  I can see faces of people connecting, engaging and embracing worship.  I just see it on their faces and in their actions.  It’s prophetic, but it is learned by observing and listening.  Just about every week, we end up doing a song differently than we did in practice, because there is a nudge from the Spirit and we respond.  It works.

Here’s a tip for leading different groups and multi denominations.  If you’re given 15 minutes for worship songs, ask the Father to lead you through it, and He’ll do it in 14:59.  If you’re given a time parameter, honor it.  If you’re asked to do Shout to the Lord as your closing song, do it.  Giving honor to leaders is so good to do. Laying down your preferences to bless the folks you’ve been asked to lead builds their confidence in you. You’re there to serve.

Never flinch when you make a mistake.  Most people won’t notice if you don’t point it out.  I have a piano player friend who would quietly say “no” every time she hit a wrong note.  She didn’t realize she was doing it, and was grateful when we pointed it out to her.  It’s a good idea to gently, privately, positively point out these kinds of things to team members.  They’ll be grateful and feel loved.

If your denomination and congregation are open to it, invite the people to stand, raise their hands or show some other outward form of connection or surrender in worship. As you lead, you are also teaching by example. Be conscious of your own physicality that speaks and teaches your people as you lead.

Be the one who becomes friends with other worship leaders in your area.  Pull them together.  Do it to bless and encourage each other.  Worship with each other.  The fruit will be amazing!

If you have stories or questions, feel free to comment below.

Holy Week in Diablo Valley

 

 

 

401996_10200540315486888_1912593282_nThe week before Easter is one of the very best times of the year, here in the Diablo Valley.  I’m aware of the irony in that last sentence.  Our hometown area has a dominant feature.  Mt. Diablo is about 4,000 feet in elevation, with a nearly as tall north peak joined to it.  It’s a beautiful mountain, and it has an incredible view from its peak.  The legend I choose to believe about the mountain is that the Spanish originally named it “Montaña Doble”, or double mountain.  When American settlers came in, they renamed it Diablo and came up with some Native American legend about what went on up there in ancient times.  I think they just didn’t understand Spanish very well.

Here in Diablo Valley, we have a multi-denominational family of churches named Church Without Shoes.  During holy week, we share in 40 hour prayer time on Monday and Tuesday, followed by a community wide communion service on Maundy Thursday.  There are about 35 churches involved, to varying degrees.  The pastors even go on a yearly retreat together.

This year, the worship band for Maundy Thursday consists of 13 musicians and tech folks from 9 churches.  We play pretty universally known worship songs, but the biggest thing going on is relationship.  We’re excited to see how God will use us together in worship, in relationship and in mission.

Have a great Easter Week!

Early On

 

The Road to Worship Leading

I started playing guitar at 14.  My parents signed me up for lessons because they were concerned I was getting too quiet and turning into a loner.  They were right.  My junior high experience isn’t one I look back on with any fondness.  I grew to my full 6’4” without gaining any weight.  I was, however, growing a nice crop of acne all over my face. My dad told me would be character building.  My eighth grade campaign ended with 6 weeks of mononucleosis, which did not come from kissing a girl.

I started guitar lessons, and was immediately immersed.  My non-school waking hours were spent practicing on a $40 Orlando acoustic guitar.  After a few months, my teacher passed me along to another teacher, who passed me along to another.  I took lessons all through high school, and was progressing right along, until I realized that the cool guitar players also sang.  With that in mind, I bought the songbooks for every Beatles, Dylan and James Taylor song I could find.  I was still pretty reluctant to sing and play in front of people, but my parents made me do it, even though I groaned and resisted.

My junior year, a girl at school asked me to come to a Young Life meeting, which was being led by my biology teacher, Mr. Ashlock.  I don’t know how he knew I could play and sing, but he asked me to bring my guitar.  When I arrived, he told me to go up front, next to the other guitar player and play along.  Everything was going well, I was just playing guitar and singing.  There wasn’t any big pressure until Mr. Ashlock asked me to sing “A Horse With No Name”, by America.  I knew the song well, so I figured, “why not?” and went ahead and did it.  I don’t know why he asked me to do it.  I’ve asked him about it since; he says he doesn’t remember.  But, after a couple of months, in the Ashlock’s family room, as Seals and Crofts “Summer Breeze” played on the stereo, i quietly decided Jesus was who I wanted to follow.  And I followed Him, with my guitar, the last two years of high school.

After high school, I moved into a dorm at San Diego State. Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album and the ubiquitous “Free Bird” were playing on every dorm room stereo.  There was a whole lot of partying going on all around me, and for some reason I just couldn’t join in.  I got really lonely, and moved back home after one semester.

Meanwhile, my friend, Mike McCoy, had taken over leading the Young Life club at Concord High, and asked me if I’d like to help lead.  (That was 1975.  It’s 2014, and we’re still in this together.)  I thought it sounded like a good idea, so I enrolled in junior college and led songs and Campaigners for Young Life.  There was a very pretty brunette named Linda who was also helping out.  She already had a boyfriend, but man, she seemed really nice and was becoming a really good friend.  Of course, we fell in love, listening to the Doobie Brothers “Black Water”.  We were engaged in 1976 to Bread’s “Baby, I’m a Want You”, married in 1977 to “Beautiful” by Gordon Lightfoot, raised a family, and now are grandparents together.  Our grandkids like Mumford and Sons.  So do we.

In the summer of ’75, our Campaigners group started reading Bonhoffer’s “Life Together”.  After reading it, we were convinced the only way to live life like Jesus was to move in together, pool our money and share our lives.  So started Life Together Community.  We bought and shared houses, worshipped at home, ate generic foods, homeschooled our kids and looked for some place far away from the city, where we could live out our lives following Jesus.  We were sure the institutional church had it all wrong and we were going to blaze our own trail to Christian living. We never ended up leaving town, because we never sensed God saying it was a good idea to leave.  We’ve also since repented of our view of the church.  Now we’re part of Church Without Shoes, a multi denominational family of local churches. The remnant of Life Together still live right here on the same street, four families who live in two houses.  They’re set up like duplexes, sharing a laundry room.

In 1984, our friend, Marty Reitzin, invited us to Santa Barbara for a weekend conference at Westmont College, to see John Wimber.  We had heard stories of the Vineyard and the Fuller Seminary course, MC501, but we were pretty skeptical.  So we, the McCoys and a couple other friends drove south in our 1975 Mercury Marquis to see what  was really going on.

I remember walking into the gym at Westmont.  Worship had already started.  The songs were so simple, but there was something different going on.  I ran through a flurry of emotions as worship went on. The music, the thick presence of the Spirit, the healing;  I was sold right then and there. I knew. I needed to become a worship musician. Many kairos moments (we used to call them divine appointments) over 14 years led to that night. So many have come since and will continue, but from that point on, the decision was made. I was a worship leader.

 

 

Serve

cropped-5535_149208995750_578060750_3812338_7316009_n.jpg“I serve at the pleasure of the President”  The West Wing

Recently, I was setting up the stage at our church building for worship.  I started thinking about how the front of a church came to be called “the stage.”  A stage implies a show, and a show implies personalities or stars.  I’m not sure it’s the best word to use, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.

We have a cross at the back of our stage.  Someone sent me a picture they took during worship, and it looked like the cross was coming out of the top of the drummer’s head.  The band was set up, behind the communion table and in front of the cross (the cross is slightly above floor level).  Linda, my wife, was the one who pointed it out.  She said it was strange to have the people who lead worship stand in front of a symbol of the One we worship.  Instead of being a conduit for worship, we were putting ourselves in front visually.  At first, I was reluctant to change things around, because the band was set up in a way that was best for sound and comfortable for the musicians.  But, it didn’t take too long to realize Linda was right.  I always talk about leading people into the throne room and getting out of the way.  I always say it’s not about me.  Here was a chance to do something to make the point right up front.

We cleared a path on the stage, roughly 8 feet wide, down the center, leading to the cross.  The band was spread apart to each side of the stage, with the drums and bass over to the right, keys and lead guitar to the left.  I explained what we were doing to the band and they were more than willing to go with it.  It gives us a chance to remember who we serve.  It’s a little inconvenient, but it’s a small sacrifice we gladly make.  I get asked about it once in awhile, and when I explain that it’s a tangible, simple way to show we honor Jesus, people get it.  Everything we do or don’t do says something about what we value. In this case, it’s a tangible demonstration; it’s not about us, it’s about Him.

Being on a worship team is an awesome privilege.  We’re usually on a stage, but that doesn’t make us stars.  We’re there to help lead our people into His presence.  It takes more than good lighting, sound and musical skill.  We serve at the pleasure of Jesus, under the authority of our leaders, with love, encouragement and compassion for those we lead.  We’re keeping an open lane.

 

Heart

 

Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
 when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love

don
t for a moment escape Gods notice. Psalm 51:16-17 MSG

 Recently, a young family man suddenly died.  He was a friend of our family since childhood.  We are heartbroken.  As I hugged his stepfather after the funeral, to express my sympathy, he said “We have hope, because he’s with Jesus now, and we’ll see him again.”  On a very dark day, I could hear God speaking through him and giving both of us comfort.  The young man and his family are Catholic, many people in my home church know the family and share in their grief.

 For a worship leader, there’s challenge in times like these.  Hard times for ourselves and people we love are kairos moments, revealing our depth of character and strength of heart.  If we’re going through the motions in regular days, we’re going to come up very short in extraordinary ones.  The moment will swallow us up, and we won’t be the leaders were called to be.  How do we prepare our hearts?

 Well, in the section of Psalm 51 above, it looks as though we need shattered pride and hearts.  From experience, I can tell you it’s true.  But the shattering isn’t as bad as it sounds; because we don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.  When people say bad things about us, our family members are sick, or we’re out of money, God loves us.  When we pour out our hearts to Him and come to Him every day, He loves us.  He does answer prayers.  As worship leaders (or for any believer), it’s imperative we develop our relationship with Him through His Word and through prayer.

 Here’s a good way to start a rhythm.  Read the Moravian texts each morning (moravian.org).  It has a weird name, but trust me, it’s just a daily journey through scripture.  You can have it emailed to your inbox every morning.  Spend a few minutes reflecting on something in those verses that strikes you.  At first it may seem rote and boring, but if you stick with it, you’ll be amazed at what comes to you.

 Next, when you pray, start out with being thankful.  Here’s something cool Linda and I started doing.  Get some small river rocks.  As you pray for something, get out your Sharpie and write it on the rock.  Put the rock in a jar.  Keep praying the prayers and adding rocks. When the prayer is answered, move the rock to another jar containing rocks with answered prayers.  Go through the rocks often, giving thanks for the answered prayers and continuing with the ones still on your heart.

 Your heart will grow three sizes.  It will show in your worship leading.

You Play Who You Are

Our vision of worship must never be limited to the activity of worship. God has always been after your heart and mine; songs and liturgies are a means to this end.  -Dan Wilt

Over the past 30 years, I’ve had the honor of leading worship for a Vineyard church near San Francisco, in Concord, California.  Same church, in the same town, in the same neighborhood, near my high school.  I’ve known some people in my church since the 70’s.  If you asked 18 year old me if I’d still be in Concord in 2014, my answer would definitely have been no.  I wanted to be a successful songwriter and touring musician.

Over time, God has made it apparent to me that He was using the years of my life differently than I thought He would.  He wanted me to learn to submit my hopes and aspirations to Him.  He wanted me to be faithful in the small things.  He wanted me to learn to follow and trust.  He wanted me to become a worshiper who makes it to the finish line.  God called me to abide with Him, recognize His voice and do as He says. He called me to be Jesus’  disciple with His character.

When I first started worship leading, it wasn’t really a “thing” yet. Around here in the early 1970’s, young people were coming to Jesus in large numbers all over the place.  Since we were part of the rock generation, it seemed like a great idea to write Jesus songs in our musical style and bring them into the church.  When I first started leading songs on Sundays, it seemed a like it was an afterthought.  I was allowed to lead one song from the Young Life songbook (it was called the little brown hymnal) every week or so.  No electric guitars or drums were allowed.  I led from the far side, below where the choir stood, singing songs like Amazing Grace (to the tune of House of the Rising Sun).  It was in essence, just a nod to the younger generation, but even this small start felt like worship to me. Over time I’ve learned what’s happening during these moments of worship is Heaven’s gates are being opened wide. Whether I’m with a few or many, it’s all the family of God, coming together into His presence.  I’m there to make a big deal of Him. I love how John Wimber describes this:

…I think its important for our worship leaders. to know what theyve been invited to. They lead us to the throne, but then they need to get out of the way. Were not there to worship them, so they need to point us to Jesus… period. 

I’ve seen many worship leaders come and go.  Some end up quitting because they feel under appreciated and misunderstood.  Some were hired for their skills and didn’t grow in character.  If we want to LAST as worship leaders, we’re going to need to face our struggles together.  We need to know why we’re doing it, how we’re doing it, and for whom we’re doing it. Our spiritual character must be cultivated, in daily, self-feeding rhythms, if we are to grow. We can’t just hope it will happen. We have to intentionally grow as His disciple. Our daily lives need to have components of relationship with God, family, friends, team members and other people around us.  Otherwise, our lives are disjointed, and the words we sing are hollow and disingenuous.  If we know and live into our identities, as children of the Father, we become much better disciples, and in turn, better worship leaders.  The words we sing are genuine.  Our hearts are right.   My good friend, Tom Patitucci, told me this  line his jazz bassist brother, John, uses to describe the inner life of musicians:

You play who you are.”  Let that sink in for a while.

As it turns out, our hearts are revealed by our actions. Me on Tuesday has to look like me on Sunday.  I want to help develop worship leaders of character plus skill.  If we’re going to be genuine and last for the long run, we’re going to need to give our hearts and skills over to the One who provided them in the first place.  It’s time to build up and maintain relationship and discipleship among worship leaders.  I can’t wait to see what God will do through us, together!

Hope Has Come- Cameron Walker

Hi Everyone,

A couple of weeks ago, I travelled to South Carolina and spent quite a bit of time sharing stories and ideas with my new friend, Cameron Walker.  We share a passion for encouraging worship musicians, and we’ll be collaborating more over time to that end.  For now, I’d like to introduce you to his music.

Hope Has Come, is a moving and beautiful worship experience.  The songwriting and musicianship are excellent, but what really catches me is the connection to the Father’s heart that comes from going through some trials and coming out with stronger faith on the other side.  Hope Has Come is made up of great songs, which could stand alone, but the album definitely deserves to be appreciated in its entirety.   I recommend you pick up this album on iTunes and put it on repeat for a while.

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Summer Sabbath Devotional #3 – Ask, Search, Knock

Abiding

by Linda Foster

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Luke 11:9-13 – Jesus says:

“So this is my word to you: ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you. You see, everyone who asks receives! Everyone who searches finds! Everyone who knocks has the door opened for them! If your child asks you for a fish, is there a parent among you who will give him a snake? Or if he asks for an egg, will you give him a scorpion? Face it: you are evil. And yet you know how to give good presents to your children. How much more will your heavenly father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”?

So I read this passage of Jesus’ own words.

And I ask: what is He saying to me right now through these words?

And how am I to, by His grace, respond to…

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