Learning the Value of Relational and Spiritual Capital

For the last few weeks, I’ve been missing from the blog world, because I’ve been devoting quite a bit of time to running a Kickstarter campaign for my new album project. It took up a lot of my attention, but it was worth it!  Not just because it funded successfully, but also because I learned some things about myself and the family I have around me.

By nature, I’m an introvert who likes to be liked. I love being around people, but I’m probably going to be pretty quiet while more gregarious people carry the conversation. I’m careful of the words I choose, and have a very hard time speaking off the cuff.  All in all, I’d rather write, and be able to get my thoughts down more thoughtfully.

Before taking this challenge on, I had to know that God was behind the idea. For me, “what is God saying to me and what am I going to do about it?” are the starting points. Because without knowing it is first in God’s mind, the hurdles would be insurmountable. I knew this was God’s prompt. And this had been confirmed by those closest to me and my community of believers.

There were a couple of hurdles to jump on the way to putting my project on Kickstarter.  The first one was feeling okay about asking people to join in as backers. This was a big hurdle for me. It felt embarrassing to ask people to support my project with their money. I would rather have the money miraculously drop from heaven. But I knew too, that having the support and backing of others would fuel the confidence I needed to approach the project. And I knew this was a new frontier in humility for me. Since God had said to go for it, this was part of my growth.

This is where investment in the Five Capitals really renovated my thinking. The capitals are, in ascending order of importance; financial, intellectual, physical, relational and spiritual. The more my wife and I prayed about the project, and the more people encouraged us on, I realized there was a great deal of relational and spiritual capital laid up for me in this geographic place where I’ve lived and worked for all these years.  People really wanted to help out! They were actually excited to join with me in this project. They weren’t annoyed that I was asking for their help, because they could see the Kingdom investment they were making. I received so many encouraging emails and messages from so many people, it gave me a stronger resolve to go confidently into what God had shown me to do. I can’t tell you how much this meant to me. To have people put into words their support and share ways I had had input into their lives was both humbling and a huge blessing.

This came in handy as the campaign got off to a very slow start. But being sure this was God’s leading, I knew I was to forge ahead. I wasn’t guaranteed the success of the campaign, but I knew God was in the process. And in that I could be at peace.

The campaign was set for 25 days, and if you know how this kind of thing works, it has a deadline. And either you reach goal and receive the funding, or you don’t reach your goal and you receive nothing. It’s an all or nothing situation. So after 11 days, I had only 6%, then……

One of the most encouraging comments came from a fellow pastor and good friend who I respect in our area. He said that I had no idea of the relational and spiritual capital I had built up over the years. That hit me hard and I knew it was true. What I discovered through this Kickstarter process is that years of following Christ, walking faithfully, loving others, and investing in the worship life in our valley had produced equity that I could draw from. There was an exponential return.

By day 22 the project was fully funded and went on to exceed the goal. And I am looking forward to sharing the lyrics and music that God’s put in me to share. There is more work ahead to see this project through to completion. But I am looking forward to the process.

 

 

You’ve Gotta Put Your Whole Heart Into It

One of my favorite recent songs has been “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.  I bet you may have heard it a few too many times, but it’s hard to be unhappy when Happy comes on.  It’s an unavoidably effective mood lifter.  Even now, writing about it, I can’t get the song out of my head!  It isn’t a “worship song” or even a “Christian” song, but it moves me. My own thought is that music, no matter the genre or category, has the potential to be inspired by God. God gave us music and song, and sometimes in the act of writing or singing we touch on the heart or intention of that creation. But that’s just me.

One of my favorite worship leading examples might surprise you.  It happened during the seventh inning stretch of a 2012 National League Championship Series game. Tony Bennett came out on the field at AT&T Park in San Francisco to sing God Bless America.  I love Tony Bennett.  He’s had an amazing life and an incredibly long singing career.  The man is 87 years old, and still sounds awesome.  The crowd always responds to him well here. After all, he left his heart here.  So, Tony started singing.  Subdued at first, he seemed respectful of the God he was asking to bless America.  His voice rose as he asked God in to bless America in particular places (mountains, prairies, oceans).  Then his voice rose in power as he sang God bless America, my home sweet home.  He could have continued on singing to complete what was building to be one of those “goose bump” performances.  But he took a moment to engage the people, shouting “Everybody”!  Then you hear 40,000+ people belt out the last line and high note.  I was watching on television, but felt like I should join in too.  I believed Tony believed every word he was singing to the very depth of his soul.  I’m sure many of the people in the crowd probably didn’t even believe in God, but Tony Bennett did, and he made the most of it.  The Giants ended up winning the World Series, but I don’t think God intervened on their behalf.  I’m an Oakland A’s fan.

Maybe we won’t have the chance to lead 40,000 people in song, but we can use the chances we do have to do it with the most we have to give.  My wife, Linda, has a sign she gives me sometimes when I’m leading worship.  With a smile, she’ll tap her heart with her fist, sometimes after a technical band or sound distraction, or something else that has distracted me from engaging with the meaning of a song.  It’s a reminder to invest or go deep into the words I’m leading.  I have no problem reading her.  It doesn’t mean get louder or more emotional.  It means to put everything into it.  Set aside the distraction. Remember who this is all about.  I haven’t always had the ability to do this.  But through the years, time spent sitting alone with God, my bible, my notebook and my guitar, has helped me engage in the moment, stay present at a personal level that becomes training for the corporate level. There’s an investment of time spent abiding.  You can’t fake depth of meaning for very long without investing in the relationship.  You’ll be putting on a performance, which is great for someone who’s performing, but leading people in worship is different.  Great skill and talent are awesome tools to have, but the ability to lead others in meaningful worship is about relationship. Relationship with the God we come together to worship.

 

Check out Tony Bennett.  Maybe I’m overstating what he does here, because he really is a hero of mine. Check it out a few times and see what God says to you.

Making People Feel Loved and Valued

Linda, my wife, enjoys having people in our for dinner.  She has a gift for making the place look warm, inviting and beautiful.  She has an eye for detail, organization and function.  The plates, the flowers and the lighting all are things she takes great joy in arranging.   Now, some people do these things to extremes, trying to find perfection, driving others around them nuts with endless details and fault-finding.  She’s not that way.
The reason she loves to make the house ready for people to come over is because she wants our home to be an inviting and warm place. A place where people feel and know they are loved and valued. Usually, when people come over, we have most of what we’re going to serve (appetizers, drinks, main course) already done or close to done. If it’s a potluck the house is set to recieve. When people are in our home, we want to focus on them, not be rushing around getting things ready and being hurried.  As much as possible, we want to be relaxed and engaged.  Linda sees it as a way of loving those God has called to be family. And a way of honoring people God has brought to our lives. By setting the table, by setting the tone, there is a freedom to focus on those God brings into our home.
People often comment they feel at home in our house.  It is by no means a fancy place!  The house needs gutters and paint.  Our furniture is old and shows signs of wear.  The area rug in our living room was taIMG_9803ken from the display floor of a clothing store in the local mall over 25 years ago.  But the house is beautiful, relaxing and welcoming.  Our family, friends and visitors feel at peace here.  Many deep, meaningful times have happened here over the years.
So what can a worship leader learn from this?
Knowing where we want to draw people’s focus. Being clear on what our focus is and how to bring others into that focus. We want to clear away the busyness and the rushing.  We want to be present before the Lord, we want to be engaged as a worshipper and as one who lead others in worship. With all done and prepared so that with warmth and invitation, we can draw them in and then show them their place at the table in His presence. We want to set the environment, so that those we lead are free to see Him and just be with Him. We want to demonstrate what being engaged and present with the Lord looks like, we want to show what it looks like to have Him first and foremost in our worship. We disciple others by being a living, breathing disciple ourselves.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” Matt hew 22:2

Here's what I was listening while writing this post.  Especially the track "I Belong to You", by Ryan Delmore

Here’s what I was listening while writing this post. Especially the track “I Belong to You”, by Ryan Delmore

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.

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.

 

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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