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Is it Enough Just to Eliminate Distractions from Worship?

Is it Enough Just to Eliminate Distractions from Worship?

By Jon Nicol   |  March 18, 2013

A number of years ago, a myth entered the world of worship. The myth, like most, was built on a half-truth. And this half-truth deceived worship teams for years. In fact, many still believe it.

The half truth is this: distraction elimination is our purpose.

In workshops and seminars, I've asked numbers of worship leaders and teams what their role is in leading worship. And they so often answer with this myth: we are there to eliminate distractions.


Yeah. And I, too, towed this barge of bull around for a lot of years.

But if you take that to it's logical conclusion, we should all play behind a curtain, or just plug in an iPod to accompany worship. There are no distractions, because you eliminated the chief cause: people.

Doesn't our service in worship ministry go deeper than that?

Like all good myths, there are elements of truth weaved in. We should eliminate as many distractions as possible. But to make distraction-avoidance our chief pursuit as we serve minister to God and His worshipers?

There's got to be more than that.

I think there is. There's a flip side. What's the flip side of Eliminating Distractions?

It's found in Philippians 4:6: 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

The Message puts it this way: 

You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

I believe all truth is God's truth, whether uttered by priest, pagan, or politician. And anything that has beauty or excellence is a shadow of God's beauty. Sometimes distant and faint and marred by fallen humanity. But it still casts from Him - the One who creates, defines, and embodies perfect beauty.

And for those whose eyes are being opened, beauty and excellence point back to Him.

There were times that I questioned spending hours making a 20 - 30 minute set of a worship be excellent. Maybe instead of creating, planning, practicing, rehearsing, tweaking, etc., I should be out knocking on my neighbors' doors and handing out gospel tracts. Something that would really make people come to Jesus. ("Hi, Mrs. Smith. If you were to die tonight...?")

Over the last few years, I'm coming to realize that beauty and excellence draws people's eyes and hearts to God. Why else would Paul have told us "to think about such things..."?

(And I don't believe it's just a cognitive exercise in sin management: "Think about a beautiful tree by a flowing brook instead of that scantily-clad woman you just saw on that beer commercial." Although, that could help...)

Think about our worship gatherings as a pathway to connect with God. The truth of our songs and message is a must to create the path. And certainly, during that gathering, we can do things to distract people from that path with lousy transitions, wrong notes, poorly-planned verbal segues and prayers. Sometimes our distractions are outright roadblocks.

But even if we eliminate every conceivable distraction, the truth of our songs and messages are still only offering people a sliver of a path to walk on. What if we, in addition to eliminating distractions, enhanced our gatherings with beauty. What if infuse the rest of Paul's list into the elements of our worship gathering? Things that are...


The path will not only widen, but people just might experience a deeper hunger that propels them forward.

So yes, we need to eliminate distractions from our worship. But we need to enhance it with beauty.

WorshipQ Interview: Jason Houtsma of WorshipArtistry.com

WorshipQ Interview: Jason Houtsma of WorshipArtistry.com

By Jon Nicol   |  March 15, 2013

On this installment of the WorshipQ Interview, I talk with Jason Houtsma, co-founder and creative director of WorshipArtistry.com...

Surviving Easter?

Surviving Easter?

By Jon Nicol   |  March 14, 2013

Dear Worship Leader friend, I feel for you right now. You're two (or less) weeks out from Easter...

Can You Stay in Your Comfort Zone and Still Lead Worship?

Can You Stay in Your Comfort Zone and Still Lead Worship?

By Jon Nicol   |  March 13, 2013

Serving involves sacrifice...what do you have to give up as a team or as a leader?

Does Your Team Have Low Standards? Here's a Big Reason

Does Your Team Have Low Standards? Here's a Big Reason

By Jon Nicol   |  March 6, 2013

Why accountability is at the heart of maintaining (and raising) the standards of your worship team...

Does Your Team Need to Fight More?

Does Your Team Need to Fight More?

By Jon Nicol   |  March 4, 2013

The Five Dysfunctions of the Worship Team, Part 2

The Five Dysfunctions of the Worship Team, Part 1

The Five Dysfunctions of the Worship Team, Part 1

By Jon Nicol   |  February 26, 2013

What's one thing we need to assume about each person on our team?

Team Devotional: Searching for Significance in Ministry

Team Devotional: Searching for Significance in Ministry

By Jon Nicol   |  February 20, 2013

Here's a devotional reading you can use with your team. This was written and first appeared as a weekly devotion distributed by WorshipMinistryDevotions.com.

Opening Scripture:

Mark 10:35-39 (NIV)

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Devotional Reading:


Towards the end college, I began to play electric guitar on a worship team at a 6000-member church.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was the “D-list” electric guitarist. I’d get scheduled for the Sundays that didn’t have much going on for the electric guitar. And this was the 90s. So there was A LOT of Sundays like that.

But still, I had a significant position. Once a month or so, I was on a stage in front of 2000 people three times a weekend.

After awhile, being the D-list guitarist wasn’t enough. There was this inner circle in that worship ministry that I strived to be a part of, but never quite got in. I was a small fish in a big pond.

So I found another pond. I began volunteering with the youth ministry and led their youth worship band. The small fish found a “less big” pond.

Eventually I graduated college and wanted more. So I sought employment at that church. After two openings went to other people, I decided it was time to find a different pond - one small enough for me to be a big fish.

You can guess what happened. It wasn’t enough. Over and over I tried to find significance in who I knew and who knew me—my circle of friends, my status as a pastor, my talent as a musician.

Deep inside each of us there’s a core longing for our existence to matter. To go beyond just being noticed to being celebrated. We desire significance. And that longing’s not wrong. It’s just been twisted and misdirected since we left the Garden.

We don’t have to look hard for examples of people seeking significance from lesser things – jobs, education, sports, politics, Hollywood, Nashville, and even in the church. OK, especially the church.

And we, the worship team, can easily get trapped into finding significance from our “ministry.” Our role of leading, playing and singing in front of the congregation can feed that desire to be known and celebrated.

But it’s never enough. We’ll never sing to enough people to fill our desire for significance.

It’s interesting, however, that our Source for significance is actually singing to us. Zephaniah 3:17 says this:

"The Lord your God is with you,
    he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
    he will quiet you with his love,
    he will rejoice over you with singing.”

 You are known. God knows you. He celebrates your existence. Not for what you have done, but because He loves you.

The Lord our God, Who is mighty to save, delights in you and delights in me. That’s significance.

Discussion Questions:


  • Why is it so easy to try to find significance in worship ministry?
  • What are some ways you’ve found yourself seeking significance through this ministry?
  • As with any sin, this misplaced search for significance needs to be brought to the light – not for shame, but for freedom and healing. How do we bring this issue into the light within our team?


Father, You are the True Source for our significance. Forgive our attempts to find it outside of You.

Jesus, thank you that your blood paid the price for our sin, including our search for significance apart from You.

Holy Spirit, help us to experience and truly know the significance that can only be found in You.

Top Ten Signs it's Time to cut a song

Top Ten Signs it's Time to cut a song

By Jon Nicol   |  February 18, 2013

Very few tunes are going to endure through the ages. So we need to know when to remove a song. Here are some helpful tips to know it's time...

The lifecycle of a worship song (and why it matters for your church)

The lifecycle of a worship song (and why it matters for your church)

By Jon Nicol   |  February 14, 2013

Worship songs all have a shelf life. It's important to understand what to do with the lifecycle of a song...

How to Get Your Team to Go Along With Change, Part 2

How to Get Your Team to Go Along With Change, Part 2

By Jon Nicol   |  February 12, 2013

When it comes to implementing change, who you should convince, and how?

How to Get Your Team to Go Along With Change, Part 1

How to Get Your Team to Go Along With Change, Part 1

By Jon Nicol   |  February 11, 2013

What (and who) it takes to sell your team on change...

Make Your Ministry Outlast You

Make Your Ministry Outlast You

By Jon Nicol   |  February 8, 2013

Ministry is stewardship.

You've been given a domain: a group of people, a community, an area, a focus. And you're expected to bring change to that domain: to grow, nurture, create, develop, repair, restore, initiate, cultivate, produce, build.

And you're given only so many resources, but they're enough. You'll steward those resources to bring the next increment of change. And through the Holy Spirit, who knows what could come from those few resources.

Whether a you've been given a lot or little, it doesn't matter. It's all stewardship. It's all temporary. It's yours only by God's good pleasure. At some point, you'll be tapped to set it down. To leave it for another who'll pick up where you left off.

But until then your job is to invest. Grow those around you. Champion change. Pour your cup into anyone who's willing to receive.

Then, one day, you'll be gone. Moved on to glory. Or maybe just another domain - hopefully one with better weather. But what you invested and poured out, that remains. And those that have come behind you will take it beyond what you could've imagined.

Because you invested.

     Poured out. 

            Held loosely to your leadership.

                  Because you knew that it all was temporary.

And that all ministry is just stewardship.

What a rock star technique can teach us about ending our opening song

What a rock star technique can teach us about ending our opening song

By Jon Nicol   |  February 7, 2013

We're wrapping up our series today based on an article by live music producer Tom Jackson. We've discussed six of the seven ideas (Introduction  #1  #2   #3    #4   #5  #6) that Tom gave artists/performers for engaging a live audience with their opening song. And we found that most of these were in some way applicable to worship.

Tom wraps up the article by telling artists how to wrap up their first song:

7. Use a trashcan ending


Tom explains: "That’s when you crash on the resolving chord of a song and build it and build it until the song ends big with a cut off from the front man."

Oh, that's what that's called.

In a lot of churches, that kind of ending would result in the "front man" being "cut off" from his job. Let's see what the motivation principle is behind it before we discount the technique.

Tom goes on,

"Every person in the audience knows exactly what they're suppose to do during a trashcan ending: clap!

"During a trashcan ending, the fence sitters — those who are not sure if it’s okay to clap...are drawn in and begin to applaud. This creates freedom in the room, which is exactly what you want."

Actually, not a bad idea. If your church is an applauding church.*

But what if it isn't?

I think the takeaway for every church, clapping or not, is this: "freedom in the room."

There can be something of a healthy peer pressure in corporate worship. There are different dynamics when you worship God by yourself, versus in a room of other worshipers. If many in the room feel freedom to applaud God, raise their hands, bow or kneel, sing loudly (or just audibly), smile, etc., others less free will feel the permission to do so.

So maybe the "trashcan ending" isn't the technique you use, but what will help create "freedom in the room" in your worship gathering?

  • A word of encouragement or scripture?
  • A time of greeting one another? (especially in smaller churches, this can loosen people up)
  • A a big, a cappella last stanza of well-loved hymn?
  • A two-by-four to the side of the head of a certain influential, but crotchety deacon?

(OK, I don't condone that last one. But don't tell me you haven't thought about it.)

Ultimately, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So our highest goal is about being open to His presence. But a poorly executed song (or ending of a song), can distract us from the Spirit's leading.

Tom wraps up by telling us that creating freedom in the room is about getting "both you and the audience on the same page and in a groove." Translation: connected and engaged. And that's what each of these seven points have been getting at - how we begin to connect and engage.

So think about how you end the opening song. It might not be with a "trashcan ending." But make it purposeful. And intentionally direct it towards creating freedom in the room.

Questions - How do end your opening song? And what helps intentionally create "freedom in the room" in your church?

Six Ways to Engage During the Intro of a Song

Six Ways to Engage During the Intro of a Song

By Jon Nicol   |  February 5, 2013

This is a continuing series about how to use our opening song to engage our congregation. It's drawing from seven points made in an article by Tom Jackson, a live music producer. Here are the previous posts:

Introduction  #1  #2   #3    #4   #5

In the early days of my pursuit to become a professional songwriting in Nashville, I was struck by the brevity of songs that made it to the radio. Within 30 seconds, they were already moving into the chorus of the song. A lot of the music I grew up with didn't even get out of the intro in the first 30 seconds.

Wanting to be a signed writer, I adopted that approach. Brevity. "Don't bore us. Get to the chorus."

That started to spill over into my worship planning. If a song had a longer intro, or repeated the first verse twice before going to the chorus,* I'd often cut a song's intro down to the minimum and trim the overall length of the song.

But as I read Tom's article, his sixth point started to make me think differently:

6. Have the right kind of song intro

"I spend a lot of time with song intros when I’m working with artists, getting as creative as I need to be so the audience will be drawn into the song. This is extremely important in the first song! Typically, the intro is too short."

He said what?!

"Typically, the intro is too short." So he did say that.

Tom continues, "It needs to be long enough so you can move to the front of the stage, engage the audience visually, and get their attention.


Remember, Tom's talking to the performing artist/band. He encourages artists/bands towards a longer intro, because that gives them a chance to start a relationship, to "gather up" their audience. If not, the audience won't be drawn into the rest of the song.

Again, if we substitute congregation for audience and look through the goggles of our worship gatherings, we can see that Tom's advice can be translated pretty easily.

Move up and start something...
Did you catch when he said "move to the front of the stage"? When I first saw one of Tom's training videos for worship, that technique was one of the first things that struck me. I was the guy who stayed behind his mic and music stands. Heck, it seemed almost sacrilegious to go walking up to the edge of the platform.

Tom calls it "putting pressure on your audience to start a relationship."

So I tried it.

I felt a little naked, but it was worth it. I realized that those "slight" physical barriers between me and the congregation were more like an 8-foot tall privacy fence. I could engage and connect so much more easily.

Six Ways to Engage During the Intro
So if you put a longer intro in on your first song, it will give you time to engage. Here are 6 ideas to help you connect:

1. Move towards the front of the platform, with no barriers between you and the congregation.

2. Smile. Seriously. We forget this one way too often. 

3. Welcome them. Often we think this has to be done before the music starts. But if you plan the flow of your intro well, you'll have time and space to do this.

4. Read or recite an appropriate scripture.

5. Invite them to enter into worship with a short encouragement. And if your church needs to be invited to stand, do so then.

6. Get them clapping. A little encouragement from you is all it takes.

Just don't forget to move back. You don't want to stay at the front of the platform the whole time. That could creep out the congregation.

As you're creating a longer intro...
Here are a few things to think about as you're creating a longer intro:

  • Keep it simple. If it's complex, there's a greater chance of a train wreck. Not a good way to open the service.
  • Keep it sparse, at least as you're talking. Nothing worse than to try to talk over a busy instrumental.
  • Hold off on the intro riffs. If there's a "standard" intro riff to the song, consider holding off until you're ready to full build into the song, especially if you're talking. Also, some intro riffs can get nauseating if done too long. 
  • Keep your sound tech in the loop. Tell him what you have planned. He can bump up the band mix as you finish talking for even more punch.
  • Make sure your team is engaged, especially your vocalists. The last thing you want them doing is staring at their music stand or perusing the congregation to see if they're family arrived yet. Teach them to look at the person talking - even if it's at the back of their head. 
  • Have a plan to exit the intro. Work out some sort of cue with the band to know when to kick it up, or go into the opening riff. Or, if you plan it right, you could just start singing over what's already there.

So over the next couple months or so, play around with your opening song intro. See what works, see what doesn't. And let me know how it goes.

Question: How do you use the opening song intro to connect with your congregation?


The Opening Song: Preparing People For More

The Opening Song: Preparing People For More

By Jon Nicol   |  February 4, 2013

When it comes to the first song, we need to leave room for more...

Four Ways to Keep Ministry From Being Monotonous

Four Ways to Keep Ministry From Being Monotonous

By Jon Nicol   |  February 2, 2013

When worship ministry starts to feel like a Bill Murray movie...

How Many Minutes Should Your Opening Song Be?

How Many Minutes Should Your Opening Song Be?

By Jon Nicol   |  January 31, 2013

For several posts now, we've been looking . It's by Tom Jackson, a live music producer. He's giving seven ways for the indie artist/band to connect with their audience

Is autopilot in worship always a bad thing?

Is autopilot in worship always a bad thing?

By Jon Nicol   |  January 29, 2013

Should you make your opening song something you don't need to "think" about?

What are the best motivations for Preparation?

What are the best motivations for Preparation?

By Jon Nicol   |  January 28, 2013

What will get our musicians to practice and rehearse?

a 7 Pound 12 Ounce (glorious) distraction...

a 7 Pound 12 Ounce (glorious) distraction...

By Jon Nicol   |  January 23, 2013

Cora Quinn entered our lives at 11am yesterday - seven pounds and twelve ounces of life-altering cuteness.

What's Your First Song Saying to Your Church?

What's Your First Song Saying to Your Church?

By Jon Nicol   |  January 21, 2013

Today's post is a continuation of a conversation we started around an article by live music producer, Tom Jackson, called Seven Ways to Captivate a Live Music Audience With Your First Song. To fully engage with this, take a moment to read the introduction and part 1.

Tom's second point in "Seven Ways" is one that doesn't take any stretching or modifying to fit a worship setting:

2. Make sure the content is right.

In the last post we talked about the energy of song. I stated that you likely wouldn't start a worship gathering with I Surrender All or Revelation Song. Both of the songs have plenty energy if done right. But not the right kind of energy to open a service.

What about their content?  

Revelation Song takes us right to the high and awesome throne of the King. To begin with that would be like bypassing base camp and starting vertical ascent to the peak of Everest.

I Surrender All is falling down to give all to Him. This doesn't lend well to an opening song either. Most people just aren't ready for that out of the gate.

So what kind of content would Tom recommend?

To + For =

"The first song's content needs to be for and to your audience…."

Remember, Tom's writing for performing artists. So while our worship is to be for and to our "audience of One," we also have a job to bring along the rest of the "worship team"-- the congregation.

Who, more often than not, look and act a whole lot like an audience.

So our role as priestly worship leaders is create a meeting place for man to meet God. Our opening song should help move people from passive reception to active worship.

Come. Join. Enter.

There's the category of worship song that is more of an horizontal "encourage to worship" song. The older chorus "Come, Now is the Time to Worship" by Brian Doerksen is the quintessential example of this.

But isn't worship to be directed to God?

Biblical worship includes calling people to worship, to join in, to enter in. The Psalms are filled with calls to worship and praise. Listen to this call to join from Psalm 66:

Shout with joy to God, all the earth!
Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing praise to your name.”
Come and see what God has done,
how awesome his works in man’s behalf!

This worship leader not only calls the people to worship, but he gives them the words to say to God. Yes, this psalm is glorifying God, but it's "to and for" the psalmist's "audience."

And you can't leave out Psalm 100. The psalmist/worship leader encourages worship (shout to the Lord…), and prescribes how ("with gladness…with joyful songs"). Then it follows it up with why (the Lord is God. It is He who made us…). And then it repeats that pattern one more time in verses 4 and 5.

So look for those songs invite and connect with people and draw them in. They are often horizontal songs (sung to each other with God as subject). Gateway's "God Is With Us Now" is a great example of that.

But songs don't have to horizontal to achieve this. "Here For You" by Redman/Tomlin is an example of an opening song that draws people in and towards the throne, but is still directed at God.

Take time to read this point in Tom's article. He continues to bring out the idea that the opening song is about how we're introducing ourselves and establishing a relationship with audience. Something we need to remember as we want to connect and lead our congregation.

So what songs work well for your church as openers? What's the content that draws/invites people? I don't know about you, but I could stand to find a few more of those. Would love to hear your input.


Surprising Advice About Your Opening Worship Song

Surprising Advice About Your Opening Worship Song

By Jon Nicol   |  January 17, 2013

Does Your Opening Song Captivate Your Congregation? Part 2

Does Your Opening Song Captivate Your Congregation?

Does Your Opening Song Captivate Your Congregation?

By Jon Nicol   |  January 16, 2013

The beginning of an important conversation: how to engage your congregation in worship...

Why a new Chris Tomlin song will not make our rotation

Why a new Chris Tomlin song will not make our rotation

By Jon Nicol   |  January 14, 2013

How do you deal with a song that has a wide vocal range? Here are three suggestions...

5 Ways to Invest In Your Ministry (And YOU) This Year

5 Ways to Invest In Your Ministry (And YOU) This Year

By Jon Nicol   |  January 11, 2013

From the little to the large investment, they all matter...

The Good (and Bad) News About Small Church Worship Ministry

The Good (and Bad) News About Small Church Worship Ministry

By Jon Nicol   |  January 9, 2013

The brutal truth I learned when I left two different churches...

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