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Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs, #5

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs, #5

By Jon Nicol   |  October 23, 2012

I used to be so impatient with new songs. If I heard one, I had to teach it. But little by little I learned some principles that have led to these tips. Here they are in a more step-by-step process:

Awareness/Introduction Stage

#1. Play the song during your pre-service time several weeks before you're going to introduce it. Recorded or live, but preferably live. 

#2. Use the song as a special music piece. This allows people to hear it, and even see the words, but not be expected to sing along.

Teaching Stage

#3. Actually teach the song. Take time to informally walk your church through the various parts of the song.

#4. Create a "new song sandwich." When putting it in the service for the first time, sandwich it between two well-known tunes. And tip 4½ calls for teaching the song at the front of the set. Then you can insert the actual song later amongst the familiar tunes.

Cementing Stage

This is where the song either becomes part of your worship vernacular or you drop it from rotation. How do we accomplish this?

High rotation.


Doing it several times.

Over and over.

The repeating it again.

Nothing else will cement a new song into our psyche like hearing it again and again. Think about Top 40 radio formats - whether country, AC, rock, Christian - it doesn't matter. They all do it.

High Rotation

One radio industry blogger renamed the acronym CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) to Constantly High Rotations. A big reason a hit becomes a hit is because they play it over and over. The same blogger indicated that a recent hit had spun on an average of once every 1 hour 47 minutes during the week it was number one.

Whether or not you or I like Top 40 of any format is irrelevant. But the principles behind it are what matters here: the average worshiper needs to be exposed to a song numerous times before she can sing it from her heart.

And by that, I mean the words and melody are flowing naturally, not that she's memorized it. Although, given enough time, she likely will.

Tip #5

So the cementing stage for our new song learning process is tip #5:

5. Schedule a new song 2 - 3 in a row. Then revisit it two to three times over the next six to eight weeks.

Here's my MO for new song rotation:

  • I schedule the new song 3 weeks, including the introduction week.
  • Then it gets two weeks off.
  • Then I schedule it three to four times in the next two months.

You don't want a song to overstay it's welcome with the congregation. But with the attendance rate of most of our regulars, we'll be lucky if people hear the song three times in that eight to twelve-week process.

A few final thoughts...

If people aren't connecting with the song after that process, dump it.

Not every song flies for every congregation. There are too many great songs to try force something that's not working.  

Your band might rebel.

Some of the more ADHD members of your team will very likely get sick of the song during this process. It's important that you communicate to them the vision that drives this high rotation.

More CHR is still needed.

Once you introduce the song during this process, you still need to consider a higher rotation for awhile while it truly solidifies in the hearts of the worshipers. You can find out more about the whole process in two resources I put together.

Resources to Learn More

What's in Your Playlist is a ebook that helps you create a system to that manages songs from introduction to retirement. SongCycle is a seminar that's based on that system, but tweaked after having used the system for a several years.

I'm working on a reboot of this system. I'm beefing it up for a premium product that will come out in early 2013. So grab these resources now while they're free. But don't worry, the non-free version will be well worth its price.

Question: How do you introduce new songs? I'd love to hear some different methods...

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs, #4

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs, #4

By Jon Nicol   |  October 22, 2012

I wondered why everyone just stared glassy-eyed for half the worship set. OK, they might've been glassy-eyed the whole set. I just had my eyes closed because I couldn't take it.

I was a young worship leader without a ton of confidence. The "unsinging undead" was unnerving me. I just chalked it up to them being unspiritual.

Afterwards, I was talking about the congregation's lack of participation with someone in the church whom I figured "got it." She got it alright, and she gave it to me:

"You were singing too many new songs."

What?! No...

In my effort to bring this congregation into the then-current decade, I had pushed new song after new song at them. I figured since we had sung one a couple times, we were ready to move on to another new tune. After awhile, I had introduced enough new and current songs to create (what I thought) was a killer worship set.

Oh, it killed. But not in the good way.

It's obvious I had yet to learn the principles that've spawned this Five Tip series. But besides not intentionally introducing and teaching new songs well, I committed another worship planning faux pas: surround a new song with other unfamiliar tunes.

Which brings us to tip #4:

#4. Create a new-song sandwich.
Whenever I introduce a new song for worship, I try to place it between two well-known/loved songs. Worshipers will come into the new song engaged and enjoying worship. Even though they won't connect with the new song as well, they'll re-engage as we move on to something more familiar.

Now imagine that I placed another lesser-known tune right after a new song. That could leave people struggling to connect for the better part of 10 minutes. Which in my situation, is 1/3 to 1/2 the time we spend worshiping through music.

New song placement is crucial. Here are a few things to think about when you're planning a service with a new song:

1. Placing a new song as an opening or closing song is (almost always) a bad idea.

The opening and closing of your services are prime real estate. With one, you set the tone for the service. With the other, you're sending people out.
An exception: If your opening song is a "welcome song" and meant more for listening, then a new tune is great. But just to open a set of worship with a relatively unfamiliar tune is asking for disengagement.

And to be completely honest, I closed this last week with a new song. We had just started the process of introducing this new song. So I had only done it once as a "pre-service song" the week before. During planning this week, my lead pastor saw I was running it again during the pre-service, and he requested it for a closer to his message. So I broke my "rule." Which is OK to do when it serves a bigger purpose.

2. Put some thought into the "bread" of the new song sandwich.

I've gotten tougher on myself as I plan. I scrutinize what song precedes and what song follows the new one. Try to make the "bread" of your "new song sandwich" the worship equivalent of tasty comfort food. Like a well-loved hymn or a classic chorus.

3. Maintain worship flow.

Let's get real. How do I intentionally teach a new song (Tip #3), plus sandwich it between two well-known songs and still keep the flow of worship going?

Good question. Here are two options:

  • Stop the flow of worship and teach the song. Or,
  • Do tip number 4½: teach the song at the top of the set to prepare people to encounter it later.

Wrap Up
I think this "Tip #4" was the hardest-learned of all five for me. Not sure why. I think part of it was a wrong assumption that people pick up on song quicker than they do. Whatever the reason, I'm now a lot more intentional about where I put a new song.

Question: How about you--where do you place new songs?

Four Worship Lessons from the Fab Four

Four Worship Lessons from the Fab Four

By Chris Skelnik   |  October 19, 2012
Today's post is from guest contributer, Chris Skelnik. Chris is both a lead worship tech at his church and a drummer, with an extensive background in both areas. Learn more about Chris.

August of 1965. 

I was probably still in diapers at the time, and my guess is that many of you reading this probably weren't even born yet. This is a clip of the Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan show in August 1965.  I've seen bits and pieces of these Ed Sullivan performances before, but yesterday is the first time I've watched one in it's entirely.  I'd encourage you to watch it.

Yes, right now. Go ahead, I'll wait...

1. Simplicity In Music
As I watched it, a number of things struck me. These songs are roughly 50 years old, and whether you like the Beatles or not, these songs are timeless classics. 

There is simplicity in these songs.  Simple melodies, simple rhythms, with simple interspersed riffs, and some cool counter-melody things happening.  Great harmonies, although sometimes they are hard to hear with all the screaming girls in the audience (which, BTW, might just include your Mom...just sayin'...). 

2. Stage Presence
The Beatles look so composed and comfortable doing what they love.  They laughed, they smiled, and each of them engaged their audience.  

I put this into the context of what we do on Sunday mornings.  Why is it that some of us (and/or some of the people on our teams) struggle with feeling 'composed and comfortable'?  Why is it that we aren't always smiling and engaging like they are?  

Sometimes these questions result in responses like: "Well, those guys are professionals!", or "I have a full time job and a family - how can you expect me to find the time to memorize my music?"

Is our uncomfortableness really 100% due the fact that we don't know our music inside and out, or that we're not professional musicians?  Or do we struggle with thoughts of self-doubt and fear. What makes us self-conscious?  

3. Expression
Watch Paul McCartney sing "Yesterday".  It's an incredibly sad and remorseful song, yet he sings it with confidence and expression.  None of the songs we sing at church are this sad or remorseful - we sing of hope eternal, of the Risen Savior, of the power of the cross - so why aren't we singing and playing with a similar confidence and expression?

We need to remember who we are in Christ:

In Christ, there is no condemnation. 

Perfect love casts out all fear. 

The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Let us continue to encourage each other and to encourage the people on our teams to be filled with the joy of the Lord and express that joy when we play. 

Do you actively model the lyrics when you play "Today Is The Day"?

Today is the day you have made
I will rejoice and be glad in it!
I won't worry about tomorrow
I'm giving you my fears and sorrows
Where you lead me I will follow
I'm trusting in what you say
Today is the day

4. Simplicity on Stage
There's also something else that stood out to me, and that's what I didn't see. 

No IEMs, no stacks of floor wedges, no fancy pedal boards, no complicated mic setup, no click tracks, and especially no music stands! 

Yes, they are "professionals", but it reminds me of how simple it should be.

At the core, all we need are simple songs (easy to play and easy to sing) that convey the simple truths of God. Sometimes we get caught up in the clutter. 

Simple is better.  There is power in just the piano and a vocal, or just the acoustic guitar and some vocalists. 

We should look for ways to effectively use the tools we have, but we should not overlook the power of embracing simplicity.

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs, #3

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs, #3

By Jon Nicol   |  October 18, 2012

OK, let's review:

Tip #1 to teach a new song: Preview it as a pre-service song.

Tip #2 to teach a new song: Unveil in the service as a "special" music piece.

And Tip #3 to teach a new song?

Teach the new song.


All of these tips are part of a teaching process. But for this step, I'm advocating an intentional "let's stop and learn how to sing this song" approach. As in,

"Here's how the chorus goes....... OK, ready to try that together?........ great, now lets try the verse....... then later in the song we'll encounter this thing called a bridge (or middle eight for my UK friends), here's how it goes......."

For some of you, you're already doing this. Or your church is informal enough that no one would think anything of it if you did.

For others, you might not often break that 4th wall other than to invite people to stand and sit. This could be weird for you and your church. But I think it's worth it. Why?

Why Teaching a Song is Worth It

Teaching a song communicates a couple things:

You actually care that people in the congregation participate.

I've been guilty of plowing ahead to the throne room with my eyes closed and head cocked to heaven. It was probably sickeningly clear that I didn't care whether my church was going with me or not.

As leaders, I don't believe we get the luxury of absolute abandonment in worship. Part of the sacrifice of worship that we bring as leaders is helping others come to cross and the throne. While we can't make people worship, we can do some things to encourage it. 

Ignoring them for 25 minutes while we have a personal worship time is not one of them.

You expect them to sing.

Worship is a spectator sport for too many Christians. When we teach a song, it's a pretty strong hint that we expect people to participate.

Ideas for Intentional Instruction

Here are ideas for an intentional song instruction moment in the service:

1. Give it a name.

I remember hearing Tommy Walker advocate this intentional teaching of songs. He always told (and probably still does) his congregation that they're "going to worship school" for a few minutes. Whether you like that moniker or not, find something that you can use each time with your congregation. And if you have a term for this that you use, share it in the comment section.

2. Keep it simple.

Use only the piano or guitar and one voice to teach it. Certainly don't muck up the melody by adding harmonies right away.

3. Get your band and BGVs to participate.

Make sure the team behind you is engaging in the singing as well. That gives more encouragement for the congregation and adds voices to the ambient mix.

4. Teach each section of the song, starting with the chorus.

And return to the chorus at least once before you're done.

5. Have fun with it.

One particular hymn-reboot I was teaching had a very high chorus. That week, Justin was scheduled. He's got this great, rich baritone voice. After I demonstrated the chorus I said, "Now, if any of you guys have a true manly voice, unlike me, you can sing along with Justin." And then we played the chorus again with Justin singing down an octave.*

So if you have any other ideas or tips for intentional song instruction in the service, please share them in the comment section. I'd love to hear them.

New Electric Guitarist Struggles With Last Minute Changes

New Electric Guitarist Struggles With Last Minute Changes

By Jon Nicol   |  October 17, 2012

Here's a question for WorshipQ:

What should I work on with the electric guitar to be able to get to the point where I can get the chord sheet 5 minutes before service starts and still be able to play along without it being a complete wreck? What sort of things would allow me to play along with just the chord sheets and still make it through even if I’ve never heard the song before? I feel like I can do that on the acoustic if need be and I’d like to get to that level on the electric. Any tips, tricks, techniques, ideas would be most welcome.

WorshipQ Interview

You can watch the video and learn more about panel at WorshipMinistry.com.

A Pro Reveals His Technique for a Great House Mix

A Pro Reveals His Technique for a Great House Mix

By Jon Nicol   |  October 16, 2012

[This article originally posted in April 2011. I just had a conversation about it, so I thought I'd run it again for you new readers. Enjoy!]

Kent Morris is a rock star. Actually, he's the AV genius behind rock stars. And he was in my neighborhood a month or so ago doing a seminar for Peavey's Sanctuary Series line of sound systems. (Ended up having lunch with him, which was fun. But that's for another blog.)

During the seminar, he suggested we do our sound check backwards. At least - it seemed backwards to me. So that meant it was probably right.

Here's what Kent proposed:

Turn off the wedges. Play through your first song as best as you can, which allows the sound tech to dial in a solid mix. After that, the tech asks, "What's missing? What do you need to keep you on-time and on-pitch?" At that point, we add to the monitors only what's necessary to meet the true need: the basic stuff to keep us on-time and on-pitch.

So we tried it. (My sound guy made me tell the band what we were doing. I didn't blame him...) We played our first song sans monitors and few things happened: 

1. We listened to each other. For the first time, ever, I think people in the band were really listening for what the other person was doing.
2. We got a great house mix and a lower stage volume. There was less "more me" - which meant less overall monitor volume.
3. We spent far less time "tweaking" monitors than our usual method.

If this scares you, let me throw a few things at you:

If we're trying to approximate the house mix in our wedges, we're asking too much. Strip it down to what's absolutely necessary to keep us together rhythmically and sonically.

When you take more for yourself on stage - more "me," more piano, more whatever - the more your monitor becomes part of the main mix. Ever heard the backside of a wedge? (Just saying backside of a wedge brings up an unpleasant picture for the sound.)

If our role really is to serve the congregation, we need to put that into practice when it comes to our monitors. And didn't Jesus say something about this backwards sound check?

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs, #2

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs, #2

By Jon Nicol   |  October 15, 2012

Tip #1 gave us the idea of doing a new song as a pre-service song. This gets your band familiar with the song in a live setting, and even lets some of your early & on-time arrivers hear the tune.

After a few weeks of running the new tune in a pre-service song, it's time to unveil it in the service. As you do, consider taking another intermediate step before actually putting it in as a congregational worship song:

Tip #2: Use the song as a special music* piece.

Setting the song apart from rest of the worship songs helps shine the spotlight on it. And while you and I would rather jump right in and use it as worship, our congregations will likely appreciate being able to listen to the song before they try to sing it.

Here are a few ideas to make this even more effective as part of the teaching process:

1. Project the lyrics, but format them differently.

Our default is the typical big, blocky, white with black-border, drop shadow, sans-serif text centered on the screen. So for specials, I ask my assistant to format the text and screen differently to set those lyrics apart from the regular sing along. (Hint, consider a serif font, smaller, left or right justified, etc.)

2. Keep it solo-voice driven.

If your team tends to be heavy on the vocals, consider stripping it down to one single voice, with other voices only used sparingly as BGVs. Why? The melody is more easily caught when there are fewer voices and parts.

3. Consider inviting people to sing along towards the end

Some already may be doing so. If you sense that they want to, invite them into it. But it's OK for people to listen the whole time.

4. Prep people for what's ahead.

You don't need to keep it a secret why you're doing this. Either before or after the song, tell them that "we'll be worshiping with this song in coming weeks. So we thought we'd introduce it to you today."

Introducing a new song first as a special music piece is a simple way to bridge the gap between "brand-spankin' new" and "now we're trying to worship with it." I don't always do it that way, but this extra step of teaching can be effective.

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs: #1

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs: #1

By Jon Nicol   |  October 11, 2012

You've got a new song to teach. And you're a good worship leader–you know better than to just spring it on your people and expect full-on participation.

So what are some ways that you can take to move this song onto people's worship radar?

Earlier this week, I started to give you five (and a half) tips. And we kicked with Tip #4½. Why? You can read that for yourself. But let's go ahead and jump back to Tip #1. This one isn't "number one" in the sense of it being the most important. It's just a likely first step. And it may be a step that works for you, and it may not.

Tip #1: Play it during the pre-service time

You can either play it from a CD or mp3, or performed live by the team. The recorded route is OK and will get it in people's ears. But here's why I like doing a "live pre-service" song:

1. The congregation will likely engage more with the live vs the recording.

2. It not only prepares the congregation, it gives the band a chance to learn it and play it in a live, but less pressured situation. 

3. It can open the door to verbally "introduce" the song.
How? Plan to end the song as the service begins. When you do, welcome people and say, "That song is called ___________ and we'll be using it in worship in a few weeks. If you come a minute or two early next week, you'll be able to hear it again."

And how many weeks should you play a new song during the pre-service time before intro-ing it? I typically run it for three weeks. This lets the song hit a decent portion of the congregation. (At least those that are on time.)

But the biggest reason I schedule it for three consecutive weeks? I want the bulk of the worship team rotation to have a chance to play it as a pre-service first.

The next tip will talk about moving from the pre-service into the actual worship time.

Forget Excellence in Worship...

Forget Excellence in Worship...

By Jon Nicol   |  October 10, 2012

Three Big Problems in the Pursuit of Excellence

There’s word that’s tossed around a lot in conjunction with worship here in North America. It trickled out of the business world into the church. It makes me a tad nauseous.

The word is “excellence.”

Ugh. There it is. I just threw up in my mouth a little.

I don’t hate the concept of excellence. In fact, I think a lot of us could work harder at upping the quality of our musical offerings.

But it’s what the pursuit of “excellence” can cause to the worship leaders (especially in smaller churches) to feel:

“I can’t reach it.”

“I don’t measure up.”

Or the worst, “I feel like my worship and ministry is inferior.”

So why does the idea of “excellence” potentially send us down that road? Let me ask a few questions about excellence to narrow in on this:

Whose standard do we use?

If we use the excellence standards of the “North WillowBack SaddlePoint” kind of churches, then 95% of us are hosed.

Read the whole article, "Forget Excellence In Worship" at Musicademy.com

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs: #4.5

Five (and a half) Tips for Teaching New Songs: #4.5

By Jon Nicol   |  October 9, 2012

Got a new song to teach your people? You've got two options.


Interrupt the worship set by stopping to teach the new song that you've placed within it.*


Just plow ahead and hope people catch the song as you're singing.

Either/Or bites. Let's find an both/and solution.

This both/and option worked the other day when I was leading at a retreat:

As I began the worship set, I invited them to "stay seated while we learn a new song that we'll be singing later in the service." I kept things pretty informal. I even hit a bad note as I started, making the moment even lighter. (I wouldn't advise doing that that on purpose…but if it happens, roll with it.)

It took about 3 or 4 minutes (tops) to teach the main sections of the song. And by the end, people were singing the chorus really well.

This accomplished three things:

1. It communicated to the worshipers that they'd encounter a new song.

This is more important than we realize. If we don't acknowledge that we're learning a new song, people will be distracted, wondering "what's this tune?" But if we tell them, "Hey, new song!" then they know we're all in the "learning mode" together.  

2. It taught the song.

You know that "learning" axiom "more's caught than taught"? Forget that here.

People might be "catching" on by the third or fourth repeat of the chorus. But by that time, the song's almost over. Why not give them a leg up by teaching the tune before you start?

3. It allowed us to flow into the new song without having to stop and learn it.

AND without people doing the zombie-screen-stare-lips-slighty-moving as they tried to catch on.

So before you start searching around this blog to find the other tips, I'll just level with you. They're not there yet. I know, that's kinda mean of me. But this "tip" was fresh from just having done this retreat.

The others will be written. Soon. Promise. Pinky swear.

Eight Questions for Great Song Selections

Eight Questions for Great Song Selections

By Jon Nicol   |  October 5, 2012

Why You Need to Be a Micromanager of Worship Music...
I've worked under a micromanager in ministry. It sucked.

And so I vowed to never be one. But there is one place that I'm intentionally hands-on (with a magnifying glass in one of those hands).


Have you ever thought about your role as gatekeeper of your church's worship music?

On one occasion, a person from my church brought me a song that was getting some air time on Christian radio. As I was looking at the lyrics, something didn't sit right. Essentially, the song was panantheistic in it's theology. It had this notion of the line between us and God blurring.

I'm sure the writer of this song wasn't intending to communicate what he did. But regardless of good intention and its infectious melody (which it had), we couldn't use it in worship. While every line could probably be 'rationalized' as an expression of orthodox belief, I didn't want to have to stop worship to explain how some particular line really means "God in me" not "God is me."

Unless you have a lot of rogue songwriters in your church submitting songs, you're probably not going to be weeding out heresy like this on a weekly basis.

But you and I play a crucial role in our church when it comes to building our song catalog.

If we're truly serving our local congregations, we're need to wrestle with song selection. Here some questions to grapple through when choosing the best songs for your church.

Eight Questions for Great Song Selections

When it Comes to Lyrics:

1. Theologically/doctrinally, is this song sound?

You may want to run a song by your senior pastor or an elder/leader in your church, if you're just not sure. And here's a helpful hint: just show them the lyrics. Unless you want to run the risk of them evaluating the music of it, too. You're probably more qualified for that.

2. Does the subject of song fill a need? 

What do I mean by that? If I have 40 songs about the cross, but only 3 that mention the resurrection, I need to find some songs that celebrate Christ's rising and not just his dying. (Didn't know if you had heard: it's legal in your state to celebrate the resurrection more often than just Easter Sunday...)

3. Does it sing to God or about God?

One makes God the subject of worship. One makes God the object of worship. Either is awesome. But we need a good mixture of both.

4. Is it understandable?

Our vocabulary has been dumbed down in the last 100 years. Many people in our churches would be scratching their heads at "rolling spheres, ineffably sublime." Not saying we shouldn't use the old hymns with their semi-foreign language. But you make need to take time to teach the concepts being communicated so the language resonates. Or use a *.

5. Lyrically, is it "congregational"?

That is, is it appropriate for your congregation to sing? Some songs just don't feel right being sung by a congregation. And that's subjective from church to church.

How He Loves is a good example. Much too personal and metaphorical for some churches to sing. But others eat it up twice every other Sunday.

When it comes to the music...

6. Is it singable and memorable?

Can people catch on and sing within one or two times of hearing it? If it has a lot of syncopation, tough intervals, and other complex melody elements, forget it. Save that one for special music.

7. How's the key and range?

We can always change keys for a more congregationally-friendly register. But if the melody range is too wide, it won't matter where you key it.

8. How's the tempo and feel?

There's no "right" tempo and feel. Rather, we need a mixture of fast and slow. Big and intimate. Celebratory and subdued. It's easy right now to have a catalog full of mid-tempo, "build huge and soar" kind of anthems. But we need some uptempo ones and slower intimate ones to balance those big anthems.

I know that I frustrate my team and the people in my church when I reject perfectly good songs that they bring me. But my job is to create both a manageably-sized song catalog and one that serves the congregation lyrically and musically.

So, I'm pretty hands-on. You should be, too.


11 Ways to More Deeply Engage - Seminar Playback

11 Ways to More Deeply Engage - Seminar Playback

By Jon Nicol   |  October 3, 2012

FREE: the playback for the webinar: 11 Ways to More Deeply Engage

The Ideal Worship Leader (and Other Myths You Should Stop Believing)

The Ideal Worship Leader (and Other Myths You Should Stop Believing)

By Jon Nicol   |  October 2, 2012

Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and the Great-At-Everything Worship Leader...

What If Your Sr. Pastor is a Lousy Leader?

What If Your Sr. Pastor is a Lousy Leader?

By Jon Nicol   |  October 1, 2012

We're trying a new format here at WorshipTeamCoach.com...

Last week, I sat down via Skype with a couple of veteran worship leaders and talked through about several great worship questions. The three of us actually learned some solid stuff from each other as we dialogued. Hopefully you'll find it as engaging to listen in as it was for us to chat.

Here's who I talked with.

I may upload the whole interview at some point, but for now, I'll just be putting up pieces over the next few weeks. This question came from Josh in Iowa:

"How have you handled the "Law of the Lid" as you've served in smaller churches under less visionary pastors?"

Rob & Tom weigh in with some great insight. And I even add a bit of my own cautionary tale of learning how to deal with this the hard way.

The Panel...
Tom Curley is the Christian Arts Pastor and Lead Worshipper at Northridge Church in Pensacola, FL. Tom has served for 15 years. Tom is a mentor and teacher at heart--and you can hear it come out in the answers to these questions. You can email Tom at  tcurley@northridgechurch.org and learn more about him here.

Rob Still is a worship leader, songwriter, producer and instructor of "Practical Theology of Worship." He blogs at RobStill.com, travels to Eastern Europe often (CIA-related? Find out here...), and has a heart for erasing the line between missions and worship. Connect and learn more about Rob at RobStill.com

Want to ask a question for an upcoming WorshipQ? Go here.

The Role Most Worship Leaders Didn't Sign Up For...

The Role Most Worship Leaders Didn't Sign Up For...

By Jon Nicol   |  September 28, 2012

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

…so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

John 13 (NIV), select verses

There's a metaphor that's been floating around the worship ministry world for awhile that I really love. I can't remember where I first heard it, but it stuck with me.

As worship leaders and musicians, we are servants. Each week, we are charged with taking the basin and towel and washing the feet of those who come in to worship.

In first century Palestine, almost everyone walked. In sandals. Through dust. Dirt. Livestock-laden terrain. And when they sat to eat, they didn't sit. They reclined on one arm. Their feet were a tad closer to the action than ours are.

I think we'd all agree to a thorough foot-scrub before we ate.

Our people, our tribe, our local expression of a the body of Jesus Christ is coming in each week to recline and eat with the Master.

They are coming into worship having walked through the dust, dirt and crap of this world to some degree or another. The corporate worship of songs, prayer, and scripture are the towel and basin.

There's nothing we can do to clean them. We simply present the towel and basin filled to the rim with the Living Water. And through the ministry of worship, people encounter that Living Water. They experience forgiveness, wholeness, and cleansing. But just like Peter, people need to choose to be washed.

And then they are able to recline with the Master of the house.

This process reminds me of a more tender version of the worship journey we've explored in Isaiah 6. We come in, encounter God, recognize our uncleanness, submit to His cleansing, and then are able to hear from God what His will is for us.

So this Sunday, remember the towel and basin. And let's embrace our role of the welcoming servant.

The World's Greatest Worship Leader...

The World's Greatest Worship Leader...

By Jon Nicol   |  September 27, 2012

…can't compare to the average worship leader who's in the Word.


Enough said.


[OK, I'm not usually one for trite, bumper-sticker-esque sayings. But I just needed the reminder lately that it needs to be less about my skills & more about my Source.]

When is it Time to Start Growing Quality Instead of Quantity? Part 2

When is it Time to Start Growing Quality Instead of Quantity? Part 2

By Jon Nicol   |  September 26, 2012

Yesterday we talked about shifting our focus from the numeric growth of our teams towards growing them in other areas: spiritual depth, relational health and musicianship. In other words, growing quality instead of quantity.

Let's talk about two things when it comes to growing quality verses quantity: 

Growing one can hurt the other.
If you and I bring people willy-nilly into our teams just to get the number of warm bodies we need, that will hurt quality. But it also goes the other way: quality might restrict quantity.

About four or five months ago, I got strict about rehearsals. The long-time attitude towards rehearsals was, "If someone can't make it, we'll still be able to pull it together on Sunday morning." That was the "needs-based" model we were working under. But then I implemented a preparation policy that required, among other things, rehearsal attendance.

It was tough the first time I had to say to a musician who couldn't make rehearsal, "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to replace you this week." (For both of us.) Now that same musician sidelines himself and looks for a replacement when he can't make rehearsal.

Because of that policy, I've had to struggle to fill more holes. And now I'm about to up the ante again with a change in rehearsal day and length. I will likely lose one or more musicians because of this decision. But it needs to be made for "quality" growth.

So growing one can hurt the other. But...

Quality & quantity aren't mutually exclusive.
Over the last three+ years, I wasn't just completely focused on getting people in the door. There wasn't the "Are you breathing and can play four chords? You're in!" model of recruiting and growth. But there were people I brought on the team 2 - 3 years ago that I knew weren't as ready as would have liked. So I invested more time to develop them musically. In most cases, that paid off.

Here are some things to think about to apply this where you're at: 

If you're struggling to find musicians and fill spots...

1. What can you do to raise the quality of your team while you're looking for more people?

2. What can you change about your current worship expectations to need fewer musicians?

Example: a stripped down piano/guitar/cajon band versus the expectation of full 5-piece band.

If you're finding that you've got the musicians you need...

1. What's the next step that your team needs to take?

Example: required rehearsals, longer rehearsals, raised expectations for practicing before rehearsals, etc.

2. Are you developing a "bench" or a "farm team?"

Are you developing musicians and finding opportunities for them to grow. One day (very soon), you'll need them.

3. Are you working at replacing yourself, multiplying your leadership, mentoring and pouring your cup into someone else's?

When is it Time to Start Growing Quality Instead of Quantity? Part 1

When is it Time to Start Growing Quality Instead of Quantity? Part 1

By Jon Nicol   |  September 25, 2012

I remember the conversation well. I was sitting in the car with Milo, a worship leader at a very large church in town. We'd had just gotten back from lunch. I'd been telling a sad story about the musician-void that was my worship team. Each week was a struggled to find musicians to cover the multi-campus model we were running at the time.

Milo said this to me,

"You're in a needs-based situation. You need a bass player - and lots of other instrumentalists. I'm in a wants-based situation. Would I love a killer bass player to walk in and join the team? Sure, but we've got good solid bass players for every week of the month."

Part of me wanted to hug him for putting it in such great perspective. The other part of me wanted to punch him in the throat for having so many bass players. I refrained from both urges.

Then, over the next three years...

Our musician roster slowly grew. We raised the bar for commitment to the team. I began to encourage the team and other leaders to pray for our gaps. In the midst of this, the leaders of the church became increasingly convinced that the two-campus model wasn't working well for our church. So in January 2012, the "Lexington" campus was planted to become Heartland Church. I moved out of my campus-jumping role to be on staff there full-time.

And musicians kept coming in.

Last month I had a meeting with the guitarists on my team and said this, "There are getting to be too many of us."

How about that for a new problem?

42 months after coming to this musician-starved, need-based worship team, I'm now moving towards wants-based. We're 3 - 4 musicians deep* for most instruments. Rarely do I have a Sunday when I'm struggling to fill a hole. And I no longer want to punch Milo in the throat when we do lunch. (Actually, that was only a one-time urge. Milo's a great guy).

And it dawned on me the other day: somewhere in the last 6 months or so, I've shifted focus from quantity to quality. From striving to get numeric growth to pursuing musical depth, spiritual maturity & team health. And I've gone from building a team for survival's sake to building a team that will far outlast me.

But if I'm being transparent, there's a part of me that would actually like to go back to the numeric growth. It's simpler. Not easier, but less complex and messy.

And so that's where we'll pick up in tomorrow's post - we'll talk about the issues of growing quality versus quantity.

In the meantime let me know:
Where's your team at on the line between needs-based and wants-based? What frustrations are you experiencing as you try to move closer to wants-based.

Two Segues That Worked This Weekend

Two Segues That Worked This Weekend

By Jon Nicol   |  September 24, 2012

Moment of truth: I've been reluctant to participate in some of the "Sunday Setlist" sharing that goes on in worship forums & Twitter.

While I think there's a lot we can learn from each other. I sometimes think it's more of a platform to say, "look how hip and cutting edge my team is."

I could be off base, and I probably am. But before I post my local church's worship to the wider world, I want to make sure it's actually edifying and useful. So rather than just say, here's the songs, I want to give some takeaways for us from the good and bad.

So take a look at the set:*
09-23-12 Set List

We've been in this really incredible (and humbling) season of God connecting the worship songs/readings/etc. with the message my senior pastor is preaching. We'll talk a little during the week about closing song & message theme. But by that time, my worship music is planned out for a couple weeks at least. I may add a closer or a special that's on theme. But start to finish, the Holy Spirit has been meshing our services together. I just pray I don't get in the way of it.

But I think I might've this week.

First, let's talk first about my two favorite segues this week.

We were moving from "We Are Saved" (in A) to "Forever Reign" (in C). I wanted these two to flow together, so here's how it worked out:

We ended "We Are Saved" without the outro, which left us hanging on an E. From there I began the chorus of "Forever Reign" (oh, I'm running to Your arms…) in the key of A–just my voice and electric guitar on a clean setting. Rather than explain the rest, here's the progression:

(Tag of "We Are Saved")
F#m     D        A           E   
We are saved,    we are saved___

(flowing right into Chorus of Forever Reign in A)
A                                    E/A                                   F#m
Oh, I'm running to your arms, I'm running to your arms…

                         F#m      E          D                                     
…Nothing compares to your embrace,

                    F#m   E          G     Gsus
Light of the world, forever reign

V1: You are good, you are good…

As I came to the end of the chorus - "light of the world, forever reign," instead of ending on the 1 chord (A), I ended with a G (the flat 7 chord of the key of A). I then added a sus4 to the G, effectively giving me the 5 chord to begin verse one of Forever Reign in the key of C.

By the way, it's WAY more fun to play through and sing than it is to explain or read. So grab your guitar and try it.

The takeaway? I don't believe every song needs to flow together like that. But occasionally, it's a great way to move people seamlessly from one song to the next.

And if you want to know more about creating musical segues, check out the first few segues in the 28 Ways to Create Great Segues series.

And my next favorite segue?

We ended "Forever Reign" in the usual arrangement of the quieter/more reverent reprise of the bridge:  

My heart will sing no other Name
Jesus, Jesus

And so that theme, key and feel felt really good to go into the old chorus "Praise the Name of Jesus." Rather than just start singing it, I capitalized on Sarah, the violinist I had scheduled this week.

As the final note of "Jesus" was being sung, Sarah began playing a rubato solo of Praise the Name of Jesus. During that time, the stage lights dimmed and the brightest light was on the cross.

What I intended as "just a segue" turned into a powerful moment. The plan was for me to join her on guitar, then lead the congregation through it once, changing keys for a big band build-in and repeat.

And it's here where I got in the way.

As Sarah was playing, I got the sense that the whole band coming in would detract. But rather than turn and motion the band to layout, I decided not to. Why risk some coming in and others staying out?

I don't think the Holy Spirit left the room because of that. But I got the sense that I should have obeyed that nudge. It was a great moment that the full band arrangement detracted from.

So the takeaway from that for me?  Pay attention to those nudges. And teach my band some clear signal of "Don't Play!"

Who Are You Not Leading?

Who Are You Not Leading?

By Jon Nicol   |  September 21, 2012

Leading Behind You

On Sunday morning, you and I lead worship for those in front of us. But the rest of the week, are we leading worship to those who stand behind and beside us?

In other words, are we shepherding our band and vocal team?

If the whole week is consumed by "here comes Sunday," then probably not.

If the pressure to have it down, get it right, make it excellent outweighs the need to make it real, then probably not.

If the phone calls, drop-ins and other "interruptions" detract from the "real" work, then probably not.

What if we gave up just a little of the short-term "Sunday excellence" for the sake of shepherding, discipling and multiplying our teams?

By the way, that's not just a long-term growth strategy, it's an eternal one.


Save Time & Serve Your Musicians - A Video Tutorial

Save Time & Serve Your Musicians - A Video Tutorial

By Jon Nicol   |  September 20, 2012

I plan music a month at a time.

Why? I always want to be at least 2 weeks ahead for my musicians to rehearse. And, I find if I'm in a planning mode, it's easier to "batch process." In other words, rather then entering the "plan music zone" once a week, I do it once a month. It's amazing how much less time it takes to plan 4 weeks in one sitting versus 4 weeks in four sittings. But I'm off point...

When I first started using Planning Center Online. I trudged through each week's plan and added songs one by one. I finish that and click open a new plan. I started to wonder if there was a better way.

There is.

The "Matrix" feature is a goldmine for multiple uses. It's like the Swiss Army knife of PCO. In this screencast, I show you how I add multiple weeks of songs in the Matrix.

And if you're not a PCO user, that's OK. You may find some tips and tricks for planning worship music that's helpful regardless of what tool you use.

Below the video are some "show notes" that give you links to a couple resources I talk about in the screencast. Also, be sure to comment if you've got tricks and shortcuts for using PCO that you like. I'm always looking for better/quicker ways to do stuff.

Resources listed:

What's In Your Playlist - Free ebook

SongCycle - Free On-Demand Seminar

Learn more about why I like Planning Center Online.
(And no, it's not because they pay me or give me free stuff. Because they don't.)

A Missing Ingredient In Your Worship Planning

A Missing Ingredient In Your Worship Planning

By Dave Helmuth   |  September 18, 2012

Today's post is from guest contributor Dave Helmuth. Dave is is a worship coach from Lancaster, PA. You can find him at Ad Lib Music and at on Twitter @adlib247.

My usual Sunday setlist planning session...

10:00   Breathe a quick prayer

10:0¼  Pull up the topic for the service

10:07   Read the main scriptures

10:08   Sip my Pike Place Roast

10:10   Look through the songs I’ve been doing, checking for smoldering embers

10:20   Check my “songs I want to teach” list for candidates

10:23   Watch one of them in the New Song Café at worshiptraining.com

10:31   Do a topical/keyword search through the master song list

10:44   Begin assembling songs in groupings

10:59   Hit the wall

Yeah, that’s about right. My Sundays come around with amazing regularity. And I’m thinking about a ton of factors when I pick songs.

  • Did they “work” last time?
  • Am I “feeling” them?
  • Can the band I’ll be leading “pull them off” well?
  • Did I get any “feedback” that encourages (or discourages) using them?
  • Do I feel God’s “yes” to lead them for this particular event?

All good questions.

I’ve been wrestling lately with how to prepare to prepare to lead worship. (That's not a typo.) I mean, how do I get my heart and mind ready before I start planning songs. Certainly, my whole life and relationship with Jesus needs to be alive and connected. I have to “live my life before the Lord” and if I am not “abiding in the vine” my life in general will be wilty and fruitless. (ew!)

But I ask myself these questions when that moment in my week comes when I’m actually picking songs:

1.     What do I feel is at stake for me here…what’s on the line for me?

2.     How fearless am I in this moment? Do I have nothing to lose?

3.     What do I really care about?

4.     What is my heart primarily affectionate about?

What am I talking about? Well, I remember a moment when I was going to spend some time just worshiping the Lord in my home office. I felt nervous. My wife would be able to hear me and when I’m simply worshiping, I let my vocal performance take a back seat. Sometimes I’ll hear a playful “up and over, honey!” from the other room when I don’t quite hit the note I was stretching for. Memories like that make me a bit skittish.

Still, I pushed through.

Twenty minutes later, I had sung my way into oblivion, singing my heart out, making stuff up, singing my prayers,  I had jumped in with both feet and my capo!

That’s when it hit me. I don’t care at all what anyone thinks. I’m in love…with the Almighty!

I think that’s a great place in which to pick songs for gathered worship.

So I decided: “Never pick songs ‘til I’ve already sung myself into this place: all competing affections and concerns are obliterated by gazing at His face.”

Or I could say it this way: “I always want to lead myself in worship before I prepare to lead others in worship.”

I can just sit at my computer and think and look through lists, but the fruit of being in a place where you only care what He thinks, I believe, will be amazing!

Could This Give You a Better Team?

Could This Give You a Better Team?

By Jon Nicol   |  September 17, 2012

What's your job description for a guitarist in your worship ministry? How about a keyboardist? Background vocalist? Sound tech? Worship leader?

Wait. You don't a job description for your worship team?!

OK, me neither.

Policy? Eck...
In the past 6 months or so, I've written a few blog posts about creating policy for my team. I used to resist anything that smacked of policy (and still do sometimes). But I realize that the worship team, although a "ministry," is still an organization. So organizational principles apply.

One such principle is "you can't improve what you don't measure."

A good job description is a measurement tool. It says to your bass player, "These are the expectations for playing bass on this team... " As a leader, you can assess whether she's meeting those expectations. And a as a player, she now knows where she stands.

Learning From Dave
I'm just finishing up Dave Ramsey's EntreLeadership book.* I quickly realized that this stuff isn't just for business. It's great team and leadership principles that I can apply in ministry.

Dave and his team don't vaguely define a team member's role and call it a job description. They create a list of Key Result Areas (KRA). Dave says, "You need to define in detail what winning in that position looks like."

He gives an example:

Our receptionist - our director of first impressions - has KRA number one: "Answer all incoming calls within two rings with a smile, because a smile changes the shape of your vocal chords and your face." A customer can hear a smile on the phone. And three rings...(sounds like) no one's there. (p. 145)

Pretty specific? Yep. But does the receptionist know what one huge result the team expects from her? Oh yeah.

So what could these KRAs look like on a worship team? I'm about to find out.

Bringing it Home
I'm going to be asking my team to work on their own KRAs. This will do two things:

  1. Take a lot of pressure off me to come up with everything (which I couldn't, even if I tried).
  2. Give my team some ownership of this.

When it's all done, I'll distill them down to a finished list for each position on the team.

So you might be thinking, "Nicol, this is over the top. It's ministry, not business."

That's OK. This may not jive with you. But I believe good leaders and team members need and WANT clear expectations. And those same good people also want the team to grow and improve. KRAs is a tool to help do that.

I'd love to talk more about how this fits into the mission/vision of a ministry, of how this could revolutionize the qualification process, etc., but I want to get to the primary goal for this post:  

Getting your feedback...

1. Give me your thoughts on KRAs for the worship team. Genius? Blasphemous? Useful? Pointless?

2. If it's something you jive with, give me some KRAs that you think could be helpful.

Here' a couple to get you started.

A KRA that would apply for each musician: "Practice and learn the songs before coming to rehearsal, and review and run-through all the songs within 24 hours of the weekend service."

Another one, more role-specific: "Bass and guitar players must bring to rehearsal and services whatever instrument cables they need to connect with a DI." The message is this: Cables go bad without notice. It's good to have back-ups. Don't rely on the church to supply your cables. (Even though we will 90% of time.)

And don't just think musically - I'm going to ask my team to think in these four categories:

  • Relational/Team Health
  • Spiritual Depth
  • Musicianship
  • Administration/Communication

So that'll get you started. I'd love to hear some KRAs you'd write for your team. Feel free to share one. Or twenty.

"Why Bother Standing?" A Short Teaching for Your Congregation

By Jon Nicol   |  September 13, 2012

In September, I started a year-long journey of discovery with my church. Each Sunday, we take a few moments away from singing to talk about Biblical expressions and postures of worship. In September, we're focused on why we so often stand in worship.

Today's post is a modified version of what I shared with my congregation last Sunday. Feel free to use and adapt any of this or the other teachings in the Worship Expressions series.

Why Do We Stand In Worship?

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but it's on my list. I'll probably need to wait till my kids are older. I drop things a lot, so my wife really doesn't want me holding them around large holes.

Grand CanyonBut when I actually get to visit it, I'm trying to imagine my first impression. From the pictures I've seen and the stories I heard, I can't imagine coming to edge of the Grand Canyon for the first time, and deciding to grab a lawn chair, plop down and throw my feet up on a Coleman cooler.

The normal reaction to such grandeur is to just stand there in awe and take it in.

Solomon wrote these words in Ecclesiastes chapter 5:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.

Do not be quick with your mouth,
    do not be hasty in your heart
    to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
    and you are on earth,
    so let your words be few. 

He goes on to give more instruction about this, and then concludes his thoughts with these words:

Therefore stand in awe of God.

There's this big $5 theology word that describes an attribute of God: Transcendence. Transcendence is his relationship with creation - including us. It means he's completely OTHER, different, higher.

One of the results of true worship is experiencing God's transcendence. It may be through just a sense, or experiencing a truth or a picture in our minds, but when we experience God's otherness, it's unmistakable. And one of the appropriate responses is to STAND IN AWE. It's even appropriate to just stop singing and take it in.

By the way, if you want a picture of the ultimate experience of God's transcendence in worship, read Isaiah 6.

So when we worship together, or you by yourself, consider standing as an act of taking in God's otherness, His transcendence, truly standing in awe of him.

Four Reasons Coaching Can Help Grow Your Ministry

Four Reasons Coaching Can Help Grow Your Ministry

By Jon Nicol   |  September 11, 2012

I used to think people who hired a coach (for anything - weight loss, business, leadership, worship, blogging, etc.) had a combination of too much money on their hands and too little smarts to figure something out on their own.

I was wrong. Completely.

Let's talk about the money thing first. Does good coaching cost you money?


And it should. Sometimes a lot. But if the coach is good, you will see a return on that investment. Not always financially. Like in the case of hiring a fitness coach. Sure, you might get a financial return if you lose so much weight that you get modeling gig. But chances are that you'll be happy enough with just the health return on that investment.

So when it comes to the financial side of enlisting the help of a coach, there are two ways to look at it.

1) The initial cash investment.
2) The return of accelerated growth.

If you were to hire a coach to help foster a healthy culture in your worship ministry, it will likely cost you between $500 to $1500. Maybe more. But probably not less.

That's your initial investment.

But what you get on the flip side is accelerated growth. In this case, you're able to more effectively begin develop your team into one that is united around the mission/vision, respects each other, prepares, and truly worships Jesus Christ with their lives.

Could you have gotten there on your own? Probably. But maybe not as soon or directly.

And that was the second thing I was wrong about: people have the smarts to figure something out on their own. Most people, given enough time, research, energy and focus can discover the solutions to their challenges.

But when attach a coach to this equation of your time+research+energy+focus, it's with a division sign. You'll cut in half (or more) the time it takes you to reach your goal.

When I started doing Russian Hard-style Kettlebells to get into shape, I could have found a bunch of free YouTube videos to teach me. But hiring a coach was exponentially more effective. Not only could she teach me the right way in person, she could pinpoint exact areas where I wasn't using correct form. Plus, there was the added "kick in the rear" value of accountability. You can't get that from a YouTube video or Dummies book.

At it's heart, any good coaching is good stewardship.

Let me just finish up this post with four things a coach can do for you in your worship ministry, whether it's regarding technology, musicianship, team building, spiritual development, or developing your own leadership.

1. Coaches ask the right questions.

You might be asking the question, "how do I grow our team?" A good coach looks at the situation and may ask, "Why do you think your team isn't growing?" By processing the question honestly, you'll begin to see why you're not growing.

Good questions cut through the layers to get to the heart of an issue.

2. Coaches see blind spots.

Sometimes we just don't see stuff. As I was working with one worship leader, I could see the size of his vocal team (who all sang every week) was actually causing a few issues: over-singing, an over-filled stage, and an over-filled sense of entitlement. There essentially was no room to grow - physically or relationally.

3. Coaches aren't emotionally hindered.

Let's face it. Sometimes we're just too entangled in a situation to see it clearly. I was able to assess this vocal over-population issue without worrying if these singers were going to like me or not. And I was able to suggest a tough, but necessary, course of action: cut your weekly vocal team into two or three teams and begin rotating. If you know church vocalists, you know that was an emotionally charged decision.

An outside, voice (without emotional involvement) is sometimes needed to help make the tough decisions.

4. Coaches can break apart big problems into workable solutions.

I didn't just leave this worship leader with that big, hairy task of "cut your vocal team in half." We worked together on a plan that was vision-driven, involved workable steps through a defined timeline, and honored his current team's contribution by bringing them into the process.

Coaching really is an investment, both in yourself and your team. But not only that, it ultimately affects your whole church. If you're a better leader, and your worship ministry is stronger, your church will benefit and grow, too.

If you're interested in leadership or ministry coaching, let's start a conversation to see if it'll be a good fit for you.

What Are Your Sunday Morning Moves Saying?

What Are Your Sunday Morning Moves Saying?

By Jon Nicol   |  September 10, 2012

I was watching my senior pastor yesterday as he preached. He's not overly animated, but he's definitely not static.

He was trying to call people in or out: "if you're a Christ-follower, follow. Otherwise, quit playing church." Not an easy message to preach. And if he had tried to say the things he said yesterday without emphasizing them physically, it would have felt flat.

His outside demeanor reflected his inner conviction.

Why can't the worship teams get this?

Most bass, piano and guitar players on worship teams are one-movement creatures: look at my music, look at my hand.* Repeat.

Singers have a slightly more complicated version of this: If the song is known: close eyes, look up, sway just slightly. If not known well: Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Music Stand appears.

And the drummers? Most of them move. It'd be hard not to. But some actually accomplish a nearly impossible physiological feat of flailing every appendage while their torso and head remain completely rigid. The Cleveland Clinic should probably study this.

I've written about this before, (and here's another) so I won't continue this rant much longer. But I want to answer one criticism/concern I get for encouraging movement:

Isn't it distracting?

Let's look at Exhibit A: my not so static senior pastor (and every other effective public speaker in the known universe). They move.

If they didn't, we'd get bored. But much more importantly:

If they didn't, we wouldn't believe them.

They're outside demeanor reflect their inner convictions.

What convictions are we reflecting?

As we stand there.


The Value of a Guest Musician

The Value of a Guest Musician

By Jon Nicol   |  September 7, 2012

Whenever you enter a new ministry, you not only inherit the existing team members, but also their expectations and customs. For better or for worse.

At my first full-time ministry, one of my inheritees (I don't think that's a real word, but we'll just go with it), was Jeannie,* a sixty-something vocalist. After a being there a number of months, I was informed that Glen* was going to be in town in a couple of weeks.

"Who's Glen?" I asked 

My son.

"Cool. Where's he from?"

Missouri. And he always leads worship when he visits.

"Where in Missou--I'm, sorry, he does what?"

I discreetly asked around and found out that Glen indeed led whenever he visited. And yeah, he did a good job. People seemed to respond well to him.

I crawled out from under my fully inflated ego and said yes. Not that I really had a choice...

Turns out, it was a good thing. And Glen came back a few times during my tenure there. It was one of the first experiences I had in worship ministry where I found the joy and freedom of letting someone else be out front.

But I also learned another valuable lessons - guest musicians can be a good thing.

First, here's my definition of a guest musician: A musician, in- or outside your church, who adds value to your ministry by joining the team eight times or less in a year.

Let's break that down:

A musician inside the church...
Many churches have good musicians who, for whatever reason, can't commit to a monthly rotation. That's OK. Just work with them to find mutually beneficial times for them to play a few times a year.

...or outside the church...
Bringing in someone from outside your local church can be valuable. We'll talk about that in a moment.

...who adds value...
Value will be different for different churches. Some may value a guest musician because he fills an otherwise empty drum throne. Others may bring in a musician that raises the bar and encourages the team to do the same.  

...eight times or less in a year...
Any more than eight times, and they're essentially on a monthly rotation.

So that's a definition of guest musician. But why? Why bother with guest musicians?

Good question. Here's 5 reasons:

Guest musicians...

1. Fill a need or void on your team. We already touched on this with adding value.  

2. Bless your church by ministering with their gifts.

3. Challenge your team by raising the bar and bringing a new perspective.

4. Give your regular musicians and leader a a break.

5. Can also be tapped to provide specific training for your team, if they have a heart/gift for teaching.

There's a lot more we can go into with guest musicians (to compensate or not; how to invite, how to prepare your team for one, etc.), but for now I'll leave you with one piece of advice:

Bringing in guest musicians can get sticky. So have a written policy. This will benefit you, the team, and the guest musician by spelling out all the expectations and boundaries.


If Preparation Didn't Matter...

If Preparation Didn't Matter...

By Jon Nicol   |  September 5, 2012

Preparation is accumulative. And every piece of it matters.

If preparation didn't matter, then Joseph could have just skipped the pit, skipped the slavery, jumped past the jail and still succeeded in becoming  second-in-command of Egypt.

If preparation didn't matter, Moses wouldn't have needed to tend sheep for 40 years in the desert before tending "sheep" in the desert for 40 more years.

If preparation didn't matter, Joshua wouldn't have needed to hang out at Moses' right hand for those second 40 years.

If preparation didn't matter, David would've been crowned king the moment he was anointed by Samuel. Instead of...

Killing a giant.

Spending time in the palace.

Building a friendship with Jonathan.

Being hunted by a madman.

Leading a band of mighty men.

And not taking the throne by force when it was squatting (literally) right in front of him.

If preparation didn't matter, Jesus wouldn't have spent 40 days fasting in the desert before beginning his public, earthly ministry.

And if preparation really didn't matter, he wouldn't have taken the time to pray - lament, really - in a garden the night before that ministry's violent end.

Could it be that Gethsemane was the last piece of the final preparations that began a week early when Jesus told two of his disciples to, "Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there…" 

Then he told two more disciples to prepare the Passover meal for them. One last Passover meal that reenacted the preparations made by the people of Israel to leave slavery. Preparing them to be a people of covenant. And now, preparations were being finalized for another, greater covenant.

Preparation is weaved throughout God's story: 

I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…

But when the fullness of time had come...

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared...

I am going there to prepare a place for you…

I saw the Holy City….coming down out of heaven and from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed...

And we are to be a people of preparation: 

Always be prepared to give an answer…

Be prepared in season and out of season...

Prepare your minds for action...

It's easy to short-change preparation. Especially in the day-to-day.

But the mundane and the daily are sacred pieces in God's best plan. To miss those is to miss the glory.

Preparation is accumulative. And every piece of it matters.

A Worship Conference That Warrants Its Own Blog Post

A Worship Conference That Warrants Its Own Blog Post

By Jon Nicol   |  September 4, 2012

During my first few years in ministry, I attended a Seminar4Worship put on by Integrity. It blew me away. And frustrated the heck out of me. I was inspired and motiviated to be a better worship leader, but how could I come close to duplicating what I saw there? It was hard to find the transferable stuff for my 90-person church where I served as youth pastor and worship leader.

But I still went back for more the next year. And the next year.

Circumstances changed and the budget just wasn't there for conferences, so I stopped going for a few years. After landing a new position (with a much bigger budget), I decided to take a few of my key leaders to a Seminar4Worship. Only one problem: I couldn't find one.

But there was this thing called Christian Musician Summit (CMS) up in Buffalo. Buffalo's only about four hours away and the conference wasn't much over $100. OK, let's try it.

So glad I did.

In yesterday's blog I wrote why worship conferences are such a great way to help grow your team. Today, I want to get more personal and tell you why I like CMS. (And no, they're not paying me.)

Reason #1: Matt & Bruce

Matt & Bruce of CMSCMS is a the brain-child of Bruce Adolph and Matt Kees. You can read about their history here. Why do Matt and Bruce make the top of the list?

Because they're there.

On the ground. On the stage. In the crowd. They seem as comfortable chatting up Paul Baloche and introducing David Crowder as they do selling "Love One Woman/Many Guitars" T-shirts from behind their booth.

You can tell they love what they do. There's no pretense. From what I've seen, Matt and Bruce are the real deal.

Reason #2: A wider range of artists

CMS line-up always includes the usual suspects we all love (like Paul Baloche). And some of the newer, big flavors (like City Harmonic last year and Gungor and John Mark Millan the year before that). But they also pull in artists that aren't mainstream Christian music. Like The Blues Counsel. They're not getting too many spins over at KLOVE. But these different artists bring such a depth to the conversation and color of the conference.

And not only is there a wide range of musical artists and teachers, but they also work to bring in other areas of the arts to help equip the church. And with all this variety, there felt like there was more for more churches. Not just the suburban mega-churches.

Reason #3: Affordable

Get yourself in on the early bird and you're only paying $119. If you can't get a $120 worth of learning, growth and inspiration of out that weekend, you're probably due to change the batteries in your pacemaker.

Reason #4: Accessible

There are a few big names that swoop in with their entourage and swoop out after the autographs and and getting memorialized in 213 different iPhones. But most of the artists/instructors seem willing to connect and add value to your ministry anyway they can.

Reason #5: Authentic

I've been to some "slick" events. High production value, not a flaw in the flow. But they often felt so "plastic." In contrast, CMS is still extremely well-done, BUT it doesn't take itself too seriously. I imagine that's due largely to Bruce and Matt. There's just a laid-back realness about the event.

So there you have it. If you're on the fence about going to one of the CMS events around the country, give me a shout and I'll help shove you over. In a nice, Christian-like way.

Three Huge Ways Worship Conferences Grow Your Team

Three Huge Ways Worship Conferences Grow Your Team

By Jon Nicol   |  September 3, 2012

We'll be talking over the next few weeks about how to grow in the coming year. Now's the time to start setting goals and planning strategy. Don't wait till January 1 and ask, "What do I want to accomplish this year?" Be ready to hit the ground running BEFORE your life gets consumed with Christmas and the holiday season. To help you, here's the first installment of How to Plan Three-Dimensional Growth on Your Worship Team.

The year is officially 3/4 over. How much did your team grow over the last nine months? I'm not just talking just about breadth, or numerical growth - although, for many worship teams, that's a much needed.

I'm also talking about depth. And when it comes to this kind of development, I look three dimensions: spiritual growth, relational health and musical depth.

One of the best kick starters for all three is attending a worship conference. Your team can catch more in a two-day worship conference than they would in 52 rehearsals. Here are three huge ways that conferences help grow your team:

1. Worship conferences allow leaders and team members to GET AWAY.

There's something about an "off-site" experience. Most people can more fully enter in to that experience. Why? Because they've taken a time-out from their day-to-day responsibilities. They're there, so they're there.

2. Worship conferences put you and your team face-to-face with DIFFERENT and BETTER.

Not everything at those conferences is different. And not everything is better. But you and your team will encounter a ton of stuff that makes you go, "Wow, I never thought of doing that before!" and, "Whoa, we have a lot work to do."

Those wow and whoa moments are priceless. Or at least worth the price of registration.

A few years ago, I took 4 or 5 of my key people to Christian Musician Summit outside Buffalo, NY. Although I had already been encouraging my musicians to use a metronome to practice, every single one of my team "got it" there:

  • They saw Paul Baloche and Carl Albrecht demonstrating how their band plays to a click.
  • They heard break-out session instructors teach the importance of playing in time.
  • They started to catch how the live acts all started a song together without anyone counting them in.

Pretty soon my team started talking about using in-ears and clicks and loops without me having to sell them. Worth the money I budgeted for that conference? Every penny.

3. Worship conferences give you your team a fresh worship experience.

The kind of worship events at these conferences are beyond what most of us encounter week-to-week. I don't think I've ever gone to conference without either a spiritual refreshing or a spiritual butt-whooping. Usually both. I get renewed hunger for leading, worshiping and chasing after God.

Plan now
So begin now to plan your 2013 budget to include at least one conference. And DON'T GO ALONE! Take at least one or two key people with you. And don't be afraid to ask others to go even if you don't have the budget to pay for them. You'll be surprised at the number of people who will pony up their own dime to attend these events.

In my next post, I'm going to continue this discussion by talking about one of my favorite conferences and the value it adds to my team.

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