Worship Blog

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Why Not Play the Song Like the CD?

Why Not Play the Song Like the CD?

By Jon Nicol   |  May 31, 2013

I came across an article this week that I thought was great, so I tweeted it. But after I chewed on it for awhile, I decided it needed to go further than my few (but super-awesome) Twitter followers.

The article is 5 Reasons NOT to play it like the CD on WorshipLeader.com written by Steven Reed.

Here are some of my favorite points Steve makes:

Most worship teams do not have four electric guitar players, two keyboard players, and two vocalists like there is on the recording. Most teams have one of each instrument and many vocalists, yet that’s not how CD’s are put together.


Leading With Multiple Worship Leaders: 10 Ways to Do it Better

Leading With Multiple Worship Leaders: 10 Ways to Do it Better

By Jon Nicol   |  May 29, 2013

How to more effectively lead with multiple worship leaders

One of the Overlooked Actions of Worship...

One of the Overlooked Actions of Worship...

By Jon Nicol   |  May 27, 2013

It’s Memorial Day here in the U.S.. For most people, it marks the beginning of summer, means a three-day weekend, and involves at least one cookout.

The point of it, however, is to remember those who died in the service of their country. To remember them is to honor their lives and sacrifices.

Have you ever thought about the role remembering plays in our worship? Look at the language of worship in Psalm 42, a desperate prayer by David:

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you…
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

Then what does David pray?

On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.

For David, remembering was act of worship as much as praise and seeking. Listen to what another Psalmist says:

Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and compassionate. (Psalm 111)

Worship must involve remembering.

A Hole in Your Worship
I’ve been in worship services where good things were sung to God and about God - his attributes were lifted up: holiness, grace, power, love. But it felt like something was missing. It is fitting to lift up and magnify God’s attributes. But if we fail to remember, it leaves a hole in our worship.

So, what are we to remember?

Asaph gives us a hint in Psalm 77. We’re not told why, but this psalmist having a REALLY bad day. In the first nine verses we get the picture that nothing can comfort him. At one point, he tries to remember his good days with the Lord. From that, all he wonders is, “Has God forgotten to be gracious?”

But then he said this:

Then I said, “I will appeal to this,
to the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
I will ponder all your work,
and meditate on your mighty deeds.

And what mighty deed did he remember? The Israelites escape through the waters of the Red Sea. For the people of Israel, the exodus from Egypt was the most important event to remember - God delivered them out of slavery and brought them to the promised land. It was a defining event.

So as Christians, what is our defining event? It’s good to remember all of God’s deeds from Creation to the current moment, but one event must be remembered above all: the Christ-event—the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and (even though it hasn’t happened yet) the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Maybe in subsequent posts we can talk about the how — specific ways to worship God through remembering Jesus Christ. But I want to end with some why. Why is it important to remember as part of worship?

Why Remembering Is Crucial to Our Worship

1. It’s foundational to our faith and beliefs.
Without the whole Christ-event, we are a group of semi-nut-jobs who are deluding themselves through religious entertainment. The Christ-event is our core, our identity.

2. It puts us and our feelings in the right place.
Too often, our worship is about what we feel and what we think we should experience. That kind of worship puts us on center stage. But worship is first and always about God and who he is. Remembering his works puts us in our proper place in the story: God is the Hero of this story, and we are the supporting cast—and only a extremely short scene.

For Asaph, he had to get himself off center stage. His comfort and healing was found when he stopped focusing on himself and leaned into the story of God’s redemeeming work.

3. God’s glory is revealed to us through his story.
Through God’s story—his Word—we see his interaction with his people throughout history. And the ultimate interaction is God becoming flesh to live, die, rise and be glorified at the Father’s side. We cannot get a clearer picture of God’s glory than through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

But it requires that we remember.

Free 55-Minute Guitar Video and Leadership Team Ebook

Free 55-Minute Guitar Video and Leadership Team Ebook

By Jon Nicol   |  May 23, 2013

Get a guitar training video and leadership team "how-to" ebook (just for answering eight questions)...

Three Lessons I Learned About Complaining

Three Lessons I Learned About Complaining

By Jon Nicol   |  May 21, 2013

What I learned from a Twitter feed foul up...

Why Applause Matters

Why Applause Matters

By Jon Nicol   |  May 15, 2013

The applause of a single human being is of great consequence...

The Costliest Rehearsal Mistake You Can Make

The Costliest Rehearsal Mistake You Can Make

By Jon Nicol   |  May 13, 2013

Failing to practice goes much deeper than just not knowing a few songs...

Who's the Thief on Your Team?

Who's the Thief on Your Team?

By Jon Nicol   |  May 10, 2013

Who's robbing your rehearsals of precious time and attention?

The Next Worship Album You Will Buy...

The Next Worship Album You Will Buy...

By Jon Nicol   |  May 8, 2013

A Rare Find
This past weekend I was at Christian Musicians Summit at The Chapel outside of Buffalo, New York. Of all the talent there, the group that I was most stoked to see was One Sonic Society.

If you don't know, OSS is the worship band comprised of uber-producer and uber-uber-songwriter Jason Ingram, along with Stu G and Paul Mabury from Delirious. Besides being a great drummer, Paul's producing everyone (including this little-known group called All Sons and Daughters) and Stu G is, well, Stu G.

Besides a hired-gun bass player, they had another guy playing acoustic and singing with them - Tim Timmons. I had heard his name before and a song or two, probably on a Song Discovery album.

Jason Ingram introduced Timmons and invited him to play a few of his songs. The One Sonic Society concert was the highlight worship time of the conference for me. And the mini-set by Timmons within that concert was the pinnacle.

Tim led with intensity - but not the angst-ridden, emotionally charged intensity of some worship acts. It was an intensity that oozed joy and a deep hunger for Jesus.

He shared briefly that he has cancer. Reading his bio, I found that it's an incurable cancer that he's lived with for 12 years. And you can see and hear that he's been refined by that fire.

His full-length album doesn't release until June 4, but he had copies of it there for sale. There was a mad rush after the concert out to the merch table. If he didn't sell out, I'd be surprised.

Spinning it in the days since, I can't tell you the last time I listened to a worship album with this much depth, yet so accessible. Tim weaves gut-level honesty with hope. And even in the songs that talk about suffering, he does it in a way that we can all grab on to it, even though most of us aren't fighting an incurable cancer.

Let me give you a glimpse of the album.

"Cast My Cares" by Tim Timmons

Musically, it's refreshing. You don't hear any U2-esque guitar parts that saturate modern worship right now. There's a tasteful mix of real drums, subtle loops and electric guitars braided together with more organic stuff: acoustic guitar, piano, cello and even touches of americana instruments–banjo, dobro, etc. –yet without sounding Mumford-y.

Cast My Cares, the title track, has this congregationally-friendly melody and super catchy chorus. The lyrics have a Psalm-like progression of desperation in the first verse that turn to hope in the second.

Let's Be Beautiful is a call to leave religion–especially American Christianity. He paints the picture of a literal bride and asks if we're this beautiful. And is our beauty drawing others to Christ, or "is His glory divided, cuz we're looking at ourselves too much?" Wow...

Tim has a knack for using metaphor without getting too abstract. Check out this lyric in I Will Follow Love:

There is a peace and there is a war, both running through my veins
One is a stream, one is a storm, both calling out my name

Who can't relate with that?

In the piano-driven ballad, Great Reward, we get a glimpse of Timmon's struggle with cancer with lyrics like "I won't demand to know the reasons for my sufferings" and "these open hands will trust your wisdom beyond what I see, in joy and sorrow all for your kingdom's sake."

And then in the bridge, I can't help but be challenged by his prayer:

I know this is dangerous and daring just to pray this,
I will trust You Lord
the Rock throughout the ages, You make me courageous,
I will trust You Lord

The song that grabbed me both at the concert and as I listen now is Christ in Me. Tim's asking the question, 'what if I really believed the notion of "Christ in me"?'

I can't shake this song. It's going to find its way into a service very soon, and eventually become part of my church's hymnody. We need this song. In fact, I'm thinking about making it an anthem we return to more often during the next season of my church. It's giving voice to what the leadership of my church has been asking for awhile.

Bottomline: Tim Timmons is a guy who's genuinely saying with his life and music, "Follow me and as I follow Christ."

Why You Should Intentionally Neglect Some Things (and People)

Why You Should Intentionally Neglect Some Things (and People)

By Jon Nicol   |  May 6, 2013

There's one philosophy every worship leader must embrace. And once you've embraced it, you need to have the wisdom to know when to apply it...

Is Your Worship Team a Cover Band?

Is Your Worship Team a Cover Band?

By Jon Nicol   |  May 3, 2013

How do we balance creativity with creating a consistent connection between our church and the songs we sing?

How to Have a Nightmare Rehearsal

How to Have a Nightmare Rehearsal

By Jon Nicol   |  May 1, 2013

When everything hinges on me (and I'm not ready)...

What You're Forgetting to Rehearse in Rehearsal, 1

What You're Forgetting to Rehearse in Rehearsal, 1

By Jon Nicol   |  April 26, 2013

There's more than just music that needs to be rehearsed in rehearsal...

Stop Stopping to Fix Mistakes--You're Wasting Rehearsal Time

Stop Stopping to Fix Mistakes--You're Wasting Rehearsal Time

By Jon Nicol   |  April 24, 2013

Here are seven strategies and tactics to keep the run-through moving full speed ahead...

Five Ways to Find the Work/Play Balance at Rehearsal

Five Ways to Find the Work/Play Balance at Rehearsal

By Jon Nicol   |  April 22, 2013

Whether you're the life of the party or proverbial hall monitor, it can be difficult to find a work/fun balance in rehearsals...

Two Extremes to Avoid in Rehearsals

Two Extremes to Avoid in Rehearsals

By Jon Nicol   |  April 19, 2013

Learning to say no...and yes...

One Mistake Your Singers Will Resent

One Mistake Your Singers Will Resent

By Jon Nicol   |  April 17, 2013

Here's #2 of Ten Costly Rehearsal Mistakes. This one could cost you vocalists if you're not careful...

Ten Costly Rehearsal Mistakes, Part 1

Ten Costly Rehearsal Mistakes, Part 1

By Jon Nicol   |  April 15, 2013

How not to waste one your most precious resources: your team members' time...

The Rent Required for a Successful Worship Ministry

The Rent Required for a Successful Worship Ministry

By Jon Nicol   |  April 12, 2013

Success is never owned, it is only rented; and the rent is due every day.

Three Ways to Thrive in the Crazy Seasons of Life

Three Ways to Thrive in the Crazy Seasons of Life

By Jon Nicol   |  April 10, 2013

LIfe is crazy. You don't have to be...

Why Sunday Morning Can't Be Your Only Rehearsal

Why Sunday Morning Can't Be Your Only Rehearsal

By Jon Nicol   |  April 8, 2013

Six ideas to help you survive "Sunday morning only" rehearsals...

Why Your Song List Might Be Getting in the Way of Your Worship

Why Your Song List Might Be Getting in the Way of Your Worship

By Jon Nicol   |  April 5, 2013

Have you looked at your worship ministry's master song list lately? If you decided to schedule each song on that list without any repeating any, how many Sundays would it take you to sing through them all? That long, huh? There's a good chance your song list is getting in the way of your worship.

Is It

Is It "Unspiritual" to Schedule a Song Because It's "Due"?

By Jon Nicol   |  April 3, 2013

Unspiritual Sensor
Most of us have an “unspiritual” sensor. You know what I’m talking about. We’ll hear or see something that doesn’t seem to be quite “Christian” enough, and an inner voice will say something like, “That doesn’t seem very spiritual….”

My inner voice pronounces “spiritual” with an unusually long and lispy s.

The voice itself probably harkens back to some tightly-wound VBS teacher I endured. “I’m sorry, Jonathan, but Jesus’ robe was white. Fuchsia on Jesus just isn’t very spiritual." So I added lime green to his beard because I hated being called Jonathan.

I made a few people’s "spiritual sensors" go off during one of my coaching groups. Our topic was creating a system to manage our worship songs. The alarms sounded when I suggested that I schedule a song because it’s "due."

Let me explain: I’ve got an active song list divided into three tiers. Each tier's songs gets rotated in at a different rate, depending on how well known they are. Each month as I plan songs for the next four or five Sundays, I first begin by looking at what’s due to be rotated in.

That doesn’t sound very spiritual does it?

No, it doesn’t. IF your definition of “spiritual” is “mystical.” God doesn’t guide my hand over my song list like some Ouija Board jukebox. But I don’t think He needs to.

System of Songs
I view my church’s songs as part of our lexicon of worship, our liturgy, our hymnody. Because of that, I’m responsible and accountable to curate those songs in and out of our worship experiences. How is my congregation or team supposed to engage in worship through them if they can’t remember them? I need to bring these songs back on a regular basis, and also guard against them being overused.

I could see someone’s “unspiritual sensor” going off if I just systematically jammed in songs every 4 weeks. But I create a “due list” and look for sets and Sundays where those songs might fit. And so often these songs seemed to “fit perfectly” with what my senior pastor was preaching or the issue we were dealing with as a church.

And just to be clear, that can’t be me. I might get lucky once. But I believe God worked to get the right songs on the right Sundays. Maybe he worked through the system. Maybe in spite of it. Regardless of how, it all flows out of his grace and goodness.

On my best days, my worship planning is an active prayer where I’m seeking what he wants. On my less than best days, he’s still gracious enough to work through the experience, skill and creativity he’s allowed me to have. And on both days, I’m following the same system.

God & Systems
God is the creator (and a frequent user) of systems:

How are our days, months, and years measured? Through the movement of our planet and moon in a solar system.

How do our brains know that we just touched a hot pan on the stove? Through a nervous system.

How do we populate the earth? Through a reproductive system. (This system is particularly popular with a great number of people.)

And God created a system of sacrifices and feasts for his people to know him and worship him. And he himself worked through that system to give us the Perfect Sacrifice.

So I don’t think systems are unspiritual.

Systems bring order and consistency. And they allows us to better work because we aren't recreating the wheel in every situation. But every good man-made system has the ability to grow, be changed and even overridden.

So if you don’t already, consider implementing a system to help you plan your worship services and schedule your songs. Learn more about a soon-to-be released resource to help you create a system to schedule your songs and manage them from brand new to retired.

A Humbling Truth About Worship Songs

A Humbling Truth About Worship Songs

By Jon Nicol   |  April 1, 2013

A Humbling Discovery
I had only been a leading worship at my first vocational ministry for a little less than a year. I was actually their youth pastor, but was slowly discovering that I’d rather be a worship pastor. This tiny, but growing, church paid me a monthly stipend of a couple hundred dollars and gave me squatter’s rights to a mouse-infested house on their property. (A large colony of wasps had also taken up residence in my kitchen wall. Bonus.)

My senior pastor was keen on using the phrase “for the praise of His glory” as the motto for the church. I’m not sure anyone knew exactly what that meant. At the time, I know I didn’t. But I figured I could write a song around it.

And I did. And it wasn’t horrible. I purposefully kept it simple. Which for me was a feat in itself. Being a theory geek and having more chord knowledge than musicianship, my songs were often a convoluted mess.

So I taught it to the congregation. And it caught on. A little. The crowning moment for me as young songwriter was to look back one Sunday and see Dex, the dad of two of my youth, with his arms raised and eyes closed singing my song.

Someone was actually worshiping to something I had written. It was both humbling and ego-inflating, depending which shoulder-angel was winning.

Not long after that, I moved on from that church. And I’m pretty sure that song ended up as some forgotten title on the master list. I can imagine one of my successors coming along and saying, “What’s this song, ‘For the Praise of His Glory’?” If the photocopied, handwritten chart was still around, I doubt that persuaded anyone to resurrect it.

I had to face a painful truth: not all songs are created equal.

Mine was not going to be the next Shout to the Lord. It would not be translated into Cantonese and Swahili and French. I would not be nominated for "Song of the Year" and get to go to the Dove awards. Nor would I have an article written about me in Worship Leader Magazine.

My song was just not good enough. But it served a specific purpose for a specific place at a specific time. And now with a decade and a half of life and ministry between that moment and me, I realize that’s a privilege for any worship songwriter.

The Long Tail of Worship Songs
In 2004, Chris Anderson, at the time, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, wrote about a concept that eventually led to his groundbreaking book in 2006 of the same title – The Long Tail.

The "long tail" concept looks at the infinite number of choices in a given area. The name is taken from the shape of the nearly infinite choices of products charted on an XY line graph.

The Long Tail Graph

iTunes is a perfect example. In the “short head” on the left side are artists like Adele, Justin Bieber & Michael Jackson. These few uber-popular artists get the highest sales. But in the long tail are the indie bands, the regional favorites, the stars in different underground movements and of course, the subculture genres (like “worship” music).

Or take ice cream for example. In this graph below, “short head” – the orange part – are the top sellers. The “usual suspects.”

The Long Tail of Ice Creamright click to view enlarged image

But in the long-tail, the green part, are all the others. According to one study, beyond the top 15 flavors all the other flavors combined make up only 23% of all ice cream sold.* But in that 23%, are 1000s of other flavors. From the well-known ice cream aisle staples like Moose Tracks and Mint Chocolate Chip to all the unconventional flavors at my favorite ice cream place, Jeni’s. (Honey & Pistacio…mmmm.)

And then there’s also bacon-flavored ice cream towards the far right. You know a man invented that one.

Applied to worship music, at the “head” of the graph (left side), there are the usual suspects: Tomlin, Hillsong, Baloche, Crosby (as in, Fanny, not Stills, Nash and Young).

At the end of the nearly infinite end tail, you’d find my song that all 60 people in my first church sang. (Their heavenly mansions got premium upgrades for that act of sacrifice and compassion.)

So does that mean we only do songs on the “short head” – the popular songs? Absolutely not. There are undoubtedly great songs hidden in the long tail that deserve to be sung by the whole church.

What it really means is that you need to decide the best songs for your church to sing. That probably means NOT singing all popular songs. Some songs will be for a certain season that your church is in. Some may fit your church’s personality while the same song would fall flat at mine. And that’s OK.

The point here is the first truth: not all songs are created equal.

So don’t feel badly about discarding songs that don’t quite fit. And say no to songs you sense won’t. Not all of them are meant for all people and all times. Which leads us to our next truth…

What Does Risk Look Like for You In Worship?

What Does Risk Look Like for You In Worship?

By Jon Nicol   |  March 28, 2013

What's "risky" for you as you lead worship?

The Upside to Getting Downsized

The Upside to Getting Downsized

By Jon Nicol   |  March 26, 2013

Today's post is the opening chapter from my new book, SongCycle (working title). SongCycle is system that I developed to help me manage my active song list, taking songs from brand new to retired. Along the way, I've shared it with hundreds of other worship leaders for free in two resources: SongCycle on-demand webinar and a short ebook, What's In Your Playlist? And you can still get those (still free), if you're interested.

I'm sharing this chapter with you today is because I'd like your help. I'm putting together a team of people to help me launch this book sometime this summer. If you like where this chapter is going, there's a link at the end to find out more about what's required to be on the team, and what's in it for you. (Because there is stuff in it for you.)

Be a Part of Launching a New Resource

Be a Part of Launching a New Resource

By Jon Nicol   |  March 22, 2013

Help test and launch a new resource from WorshipTeamCoach.com

Five Ideas to Add Beauty to Your Worship Service

Five Ideas to Add Beauty to Your Worship Service

By Jon Nicol   |  March 20, 2013

Beauty and excellence draws people's eyes and hearts to God. Here are five ideas to add beauty to your worship gathering...

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