What’s Missing In Today’s Worship Songwriting?

Just ran across this fantastic article containing some real nuggets of helpful advice from several prominent theologians and teachers of our day.  You can find it here at WorshipLeader.com.  Highly recommended!


Hey Leader… Do you have a Worship Team?

“Team”… we all know the definition.  It’s more than one.  Generally, it’s people (or animals) working together toward a common goal.  If one horse can’t pull a wagon, a team of horses usually can.   If one programmer can’t get the app created on his/her own, a team of programmers is the ticket.

Most hit songs today are written by “teams”.  Co-writing is the primary way professional songwriters get the job done.  There are many reasons for this, including the unfortunate fact that most artists won’t cut a song today unless they write on it, but the main reason professionals tend to co-write is because they understand that the best product comes when they collaborate with others.  Some writers are strongest with lyrics, some with melody, etc.  But also, “two heads are better than one” in most cases.  But today my intention was not really to talk about songwriting collaboration.  If you want to read more about that, check out the co-writing blog post.

We all understand the Biblical concept of the body, and its various parts … how one part of the body can’t say to another, “I don’t need you.”.   So, how and why do you select a worship team?

Fact:  A worship leader most often selects his worship team based on the musical instrument each individual plays.  In other words, the worship leader selects a “band”.  But a good “band” does not necessarily mean a good “worship team”.  Be careful!

Put on your pastor or ministry hat and think through this with me.  Is it more important to have exactly the right instruments in the band or the right people on the team?  (This reminds me of the business book, GOOD TO GREAT, where the author, Jim Collins talks about the importance of “getting the right people on the bus”.)  Let me go a little deeper here.  What is the purpose of the worship team – to make the most awesome music or to enter into the most holy place?  

I remember in the early days of our Worship Together ministry, I hosted several conferences around the US.  There were two specific worship leaders from the UK that I invited to come lead at these conferences.  Both of them turned me down for the very same reason.  In each case I had explained to the worship leader that I could not afford to fly in their entire team.  However, I would provide some of the absolute best-skilled, professional musicians (all Christian I might add) to serve as their band.  Both of the leaders told me, in their own way, that they would not do it without their  team.   These guys were internationally known church worship leaders who had carefully selected their worship team members through  prayer and because of careful attention to each member’s unique spiritual gifting (not just their musical gifting).  They led worship as a unit, not as solo leaders with a band.

One of these guys had a long conversation with me, that I’ll never forget.  He shared stories of how, at times, the Spirit of the Lord would rest upon one of his background singers during the service… or upon the drummer, or on another team member, and what would result would be a powerful worship service and time of ministry.   He had great respect for each individual on his team.  The worship leader understood that the group of individuals did “ministry” together and that one member was not more important than another.  They were all trusted ministers, filled with the Word and the Spirit.  The leader expected that the Lord would move however He wanted to move, through whichever part of the team He chose, to do His work in each service.   The team was prepared, spiritually.  They  prayed together, sought the Lord together, were one in purpose and vision.   The spiritual preparation and the ministry to the Lord and to the congregation was top priority.

I had this particular conversation in 1999 and I still remember it.   Although I’ve shared it with friends on a handful of occasions, today it seemed particularly important to share.  I’ve thought about it often and I’ve also thought about how a team is only as strong as its weakest link.  We know that’s true musically for a band, but it’s also true spiritually.  Just as your senior pastor is careful who he might put on the platform to minister the Word to his flock, or who he might allow on the prayer team to pray with his flock,  as a worship leader you must use the same caution as you choose who ministers with you.

As contemporary worship music has become more popular in recent years, church leaders seem quite eager to put together full bands for their platform and the musicians in their congregations are eager to play (for both right and wrong reasons).  It seems that too often we put the “cart before the horse” – or horses, as it may be.  If you’re a leader, I encourage you to select and prep your musicians and singers with much wisdom and prayer –  not for the best music, but for powerful and effective ministry as a team.

Something To Write About

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve blogged.  Partly due to time, but partly because I felt I didn’t have anything to write about.  And that’s exactly what I’ll be talking about today – Something to Write About.

If we’re writing Christian music, and Christianity is a complete world view, then why do we cover such narrow ground with our lyrics?  Over the last year, I’ve heard too many songs that not only sound the same, but talk about the exact same thing … mainly God’s grace and his salvation.  God’s grace is incomparable  and his salvation a blessed mystery, but there is so much more to God than just what He’s done for us.  So much more to write about!

The Almighty is worthy of worship and honor, regardless of what He does for mankind.  Consider Job … Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. (Job 13:15 KJV).  It’s not about us.  It’s about Him.  Yet, way too many of our “worship” songs are really about us, when you get right down to it.

The many attributes of God are all worthy of worship and praise …  There are a myriad of scripture verses that reveal these attributes.  In addition to being merciful, faithful and loving toward us (which is what so many of our songs are about), He is all-knowing, never-changing, ever-present, sovereign, holy, righteous, absolute-truth.  He’s ultimate ruler, decision maker, king.  He is to be feared.  He is beyond our comprehension.  Who can know the mind of God?  Who is like Him?  He said to Job, Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. (Job 38:4 KVJ);  How great is God–beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.  (Job 36:26 NIV)

All too often our lyric writing defaults to words like “great” and “amazing” and “wonderful”.  Then we add something like, “because You saved me”, and we never go deeper.  What if we focused a worship song on one particular aspect of  God (any number of which are worthy of worship independently)?  For example, if I tell my wife that she’s beautiful, that’s good.  But if I tell her that she has the sweetest smile and the most alluring lips, then that’s better.  I’m telling her some of the ways she’s beautiful and she knows I’ve noticed and given it serious thought.

In 1 Corinthians Paul challenged the church that they had not matured enough, and he likened it to still feeding on baby’s milk.  Christian song lyrics are often milky and not meaty.  As the Church, we all need meat to grow and the pastor is not the only one feeding the Church.  Christian songwriters are feeding the Church something every Sunday!  In fact, it has been said that the Church body learns most of their doctrine from the songs they sing, rather than from the sermons they hear.  This is scary, unless our songwriters are serious students of the Word.

In addition to God’s attributes, there are many Biblical doctrines that we can share, teach or act upon in our song lyrics.  Here’s an example…

BLESSING:  The Bible is full of teaching on “Blessing”.  We often bless the Lord in our worship songs.  But do we have songs that speak blessing on each other, on those who persecute us (Romans 12:14), on our cities, our churches, our country, etc.?  Out of our mouths can come blessing or cursing.  We have the authority to bless as the body of Christ in this Earth.

There are so many things to write about!  Let’s jump into the meat of the Word and write it on our hearts.  Then, out of the abundance of our heart, our mouth (or pen) will speak!

Be blessed!

Authority and Anointing

I was in a worship service recently where a truth about leading worship became so glaringly evident, I felt it presented an example worth sharing …

The worship time in this service was led by a team that had done it many times before.  A young man led the congregation in a number of worship songs that have become popular to many over the last decade.  The band was spectacular, complete pros, some with years of experience in the studio and on the road with professional artists.  The sound was great and the young man leading had quite a phenomenal voice and presence.  But something was lacking.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it … great songs … pro musicians … quality sound … and the right motivation.  Most churches dream of having all those things in consistency!  This church had it in spades.

Then, about half-way through the worship service, the senior worship leader began to lead.  He hadn’t sung half of the first line of a song and the atmosphere completely changed.  By the end of the song, it was as if the glory of the Lord came down and rested among us.  The congregation seemed overwhelmed with gladness, shouts of praise, tears, and even a few dancing with joy.  For those skeptics who might think it was because he sang the hottest new song, or because the band “cranked it up”, nothing could be father from the truth.  When he took the reigns, there was spiritual authority in his voice.  Not great volume.  Just great authority.  Confidence, expectation, joy, and pure worship.  This leader carried an anointing like few we see today.

Why is it that some carry such an anointing for ministry, while others seem to lack it?  And can those who lack it, gain it?  The answer to the second question is “yes”.  The Lord says that we have not, because we ask not.  He says that He is pleased to give us his Holy Spirit, and more of his Holy Spirit.  That anointing must be sought after.  It can be found in the secret place of intimacy with the Lord.  And that’s the reason for my blog post today.

While the record labels seek worship leaders with musical giftings, the Church hopefully seeks those with spiritual giftings.  I’ve had the opportunity to know many worship leaders over the years.  I’ve been in hundreds, if not thousands, of worship services, worship conferences and worship events.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with worship leaders on a creative and administrative level to help them write, record and distribute their songs to the world.  But professional musical training, showmanship, money, platform, strong communication skills, and even a heart for worship, does not add up to a leader of worship.

(As a side note, in the case described above, the senior worship leader was mentoring the younger leader.  And that mentorship process included much more than musical mentorship.  The senior leader was leading WITH this young man and did take the reigns when it was appropriate.  I commend him for that.  But this particular service reminded me of the many other churches I’d been in where no true spiritual mentor was to be found for those leading worship.)

The rising popularity of contemporary worship music and recording artists that sing worship songs has provided some great songs as resources for today’s Church (as well as some not so great songs that the Church now uses).  But the Church’s new focus in covering the popular songs of the day, and dare I say, the new focus (or trend) in hiring trained and even professional “artists” to lead the church in those worship songs, has sadly moved the Church too far away from first seeking individuals that are spiritually equipped to minister unto the Lord.  We often complain about our worship services being performance based and this is exactly why.  Trained musicians can give us a wonderful “song service”.  Only those who spend quality time in the secret place know how to lead others there.  Those who spend adequate time in the presence of the Almighty are changed.  They can’t help but worship and adore the One they have been with.  And His presence abides with them.  When they open their mouth He speaks through them.  They hear the Lord as they lead us in worship.  They recognize his movements within the congregation.  They know and they love His presence.  If we expect our senior pastor to spend face-time with the Almighty each week, listening and receiving the message of the Lord for us, then why would we have any less expectation of our worship leader?

Worship is not music.  We can certainly worship Him without musicians and without a song.  And by the way, God does not actually seek worship.  The Word tells us that He seeks worshippers. He’s not looking for those who make the most beautiful music.  He’s looking for those who worship in spirit …  and in truth.  Music is only one of the ways that he has ordained for us to express our worship. Yet too many worship leaders today spend more time honing their craft and planning / rehearsing their worship sets, than they spend on their face, alone in worship.

Worship is something we do, because we’re compelled to do it.   It’s out of the abundance of our heart that we speak or sing words of worship.  The worship songs that we select to sing should only help express what our spirit wants to communicate to Him at the time.  When His presence and goodness moves among us as we worship corporately, our leader should be one who helps us express what we want, and need, to say in the moment.  This is why the overly structured worship service today can often quench the Spirit … and quench what our own spirits need to say as we worship.  And it’s why the worship leader must be spiritually equipped to lead us, much more than musically equipped.

Now I’m one that loves a great band.  And I’ve said many times, as a musician myself, that poor musicianship or pitchy vocals can really distract me from worship in the corporate setting.  But that’s really a cop-out and my wife reminds me of that quite often.  The truth is, I’ve been in many worship services with less talented musicians, where the Spirit of God came in supernatural power and blessed us all with His presence.  Although I would prefer that all churches had talented musicians and singers, it is immensely more important that they have a worship leader (and worship team) that is spiritually equipped and prepared to lead us into the presence of the Lord, where we can minister to Him in spirit and truth.

As we enter the new year, may our first love be the Everlasting God.  May we lavishly worship Him both privately and corporately because our bodies, minds and spirits can’t hold back a single ounce of adoration and praise for the One we love.  As musicians, may our preparation first be spiritual and only after that, musical and administrative.  My prayer is that in His presence He will anoint you with spiritual giftings and spiritual authority as a leader / minister, in the name of His dear Son and for the cause of His kingdom.  May you be blessed in His presence not because that’s what we seek, but because that’s what happens when we seek to bless Him!