Living the songs you sing (or write)

Living the songs you sing (or write)  Image by Ani's Photography (http://www.flickr.com/photos/photographybyani/) - Creative Commons Attribution License

Living the songs you sing (or write)
Image by Ani’s Photography (http://www.flickr.com/photos/photographybyani/) – Creative Commons Attribution License

There are days, and sometimes weeks and months that I wake up every morning feeling defeated before I get out of bed. Today was no exception.

I can probably blame the ultra-cold weather of the past 3 days (-8F for most of yesterday), but I think that’s only part of it.

This past year, I wrote a song. My first worship song ever, in fact.  I called it “Quiet Now”, and you can listen here.

The main idea came to me while I was sitting in, Comet Coffee, my favorite coffee shop in St. Louis. Comet is right next to an interstate, and the road noise is pretty loud when you step outside onto the patio. Right inside, though, you can barely hear the road, even right next to the window. Noticing that dynamic inspired the opening line:

“Your voice is barely a whisper in my heart, but it fills me up when I shut everything else out.”

This is a deep need inside us all, and one I’m so bad at. This is where songs – worship songs in particular – can be truly valuable. It’s possible to notice the disparity between your life and the songs you sing and decide that you shouldn’t sing them because you’re not being honest to do so. I can see why people feel this way, and I suppose it’s a step ahead of singing songs without any thought behind what you’re singing, but I think it’s a bit shy of the mark. I believe worship songs are like scripture is in most places. It’s not meant to be a weight around your neck, showing you how terrible you are. It’s meant to be a reflection of where you’re meant to be, and where you can get to when you really live a God-breathed life – one that lets Jesus shine through moment by moment.

It gets harder when you lead worship songs for a congregation, and even harder than that when you actually try to write songs that reflect God’s heart for you and for others. You can feel down deep when your life doesn’t match the words.  So what do you do? Quit singing or leading or writing until things match up better? Maybe. Sometimes walking away for a period of time can give you better perspective and help you find the right reasons to do all the above. I’ve certainly done it. Sometimes, though, the answer is to stick with it, humble yourself, and learn to make confession a regular part of your life. You know, like it says in the Bible:

James 5:16

English Standard Version (ESV)

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

I guess the point is, your life and songs, public and private, are not meant to be lived apart from your Father. Living as close to Him as possible is really the point, and learning how to be quiet and listen is a good first step.


The importance of leaving some slack (or, finishing weak in 2013)

Happy New Year 2014

Happy New Year 2014

 

It’s no secret, if you’ve read this blog, that I’ve been away for a little while.

It wasn’t really planned, but at some point, somewhere around October or November, I hit the wall. I suddenly had barely enough in the tank to do the things I had to do, with nothing left for the extras.

It actually started somewhere back in July. At that time, Anna and I were busy trying to help pull a worship leader’s conference together and Anna was trying to crank out some custom quilts for her Etsy.com store. On a high note, we also pulled off a nice little worship night featuring original songs with some friends at Hope Vineyard. It was tiring, but fun.

And then August, worship conference. Good, again, but tiring. And there was payoff. More confidence in leading, more confidence in playing.

September – more quilts, Levi starts Kindergarten, and Anna plans a friend’s wedding in full force, which occurred first week of October.

Around that time, we had also been following the story of Phoebe Fair, a 4-year-old girl who was battling an aggressive form of childhood cancer. She lost that battle and passed away October 5. For reasons I can’t totally explain, this was about the time I felt like I dropped to my knees to catch my breath and never quite got back up. Maybe it’s a feeling deep down that words are inadequate sometimes. Maybe it’s a deep seated fear within me. Maybe I just hadn’t given myself a real breather in too long, and it finally caught up with me. Nonetheless, that week was like a pause button.

A few more weeks of recovery, then at the beginning of November, one of my uncles took his own life. We decided we really needed to go to Virginia for the funeral, especially to be there for my Dad, whose brother it was. More time of reflection and contemplation. I went back for couple a EMDR sessions again to deal with the trauma of the situation.

The rest of November we tried our best to help my parents prep their house for my Sister, her Husband, and two young children to move in. Because of all the family trauma, we ended up somewhat short of the goal, though they did, in fact, move in. Then Thanksgiving, though it was fairly uneventful, and even kind of nice.

December came with little drama, up til Christmas, when we stayed with Anna’s family for a week. Sometimes, too little space can eventually breed drama, and this year was no exception. On top of this, almost everyone in the house contracted either a cough or fever or both. My fever lasted 5 days, Levi’s lasted 8.

The moral of this short catalog is to leave yourself space for the unexpected to happen. Give yourself room to deal with imperfection. As much as I know my own actions are to blame, for some of my shortcomings this year, I also believe that God was actively preventing us from getting much done. I believe he was asking us to slow down. So, here’s to 2014. This year, I resolve to slow down, appreciate the life I have and the people around me, and to make space for the things I really love.


Dreams, Faith, Action (And Some Repentance)

Work Hard, Dream Big

Work Hard, Dream Big.

Today I met with a man from church who’s starting to be sort of a mentor to me. During that meeting, God really spoke to me clearly about something I need to keep repenting of – my lack of faith. Specifically, my lack of consistency in dreaming and praying and action. My mentor also gave me an assignment to pray and practice song writing more consistently than I have been before we meet again.

I know I’m not that different from a lot of people my age. I have a wife, a son, a full-time job, and a lot of responsibilities with church. If I wanted to, I could fill every waking hour with something that revolves around one of these things. I’m not so good at finding the time to pray and ask God for what I really want though, or for what he wants from me.

Deep inside, though, are dreams, that I believe are God-given.

Here are a few, in no particular order:

  • Write lots of good music
  • Play and sing lots of good music
  • Write books and blogs about the above, as well as other topics of interest to me, and of which
  • Do all of the above full-time, without having to do other work for a living as well, so I have time to truly master them
  • Do all of the above with my wife
  • Have more children, by birth and / or adoption
  • Lose fat and build muscle, til I have healthy amounts of both in my body
  • Be debt-free and have enough money in the bank for emergencies and retirement

I’m not shallow enough to think that all my dreams are perfect, but I do believe that at the core, they do come from God.

Up til recently, I wouldn’t have considered my unwillingness to dream big and ask big to be a sin, but I’m starting to think differently at this point. I’m starting to take the idea of boldness more seriously. I think the alternative is to come to the end of my life never having really lived the life I was meant to. Not that I’m loved any less, but that what God has put in me has importance, simply because he put it there.

I think this also has implications for me as a worship leader. I know it has, in a negative sense. I’ve let my natural pessimism and fear keep me from trying very hard as a leader at times.

So, I’m going to let today be a line of demarcation. Today, I intend to dream bigger and to keep on dreaming when I don’t feel like it, and I intend to act on those dreams, and I’m sorry for where I haven’t in the past.


A few thoughts on the future and being all in for the long haul

Clouds And Signposts Creative Common Attribution Some rights reserved by walkinguphills (http://www.flickr.com/photos/peerlawther/)

Clouds And Signposts Creative Common Attribution Some rights reserved by walkinguphills (http://www.flickr.com/photos/peerlawther/)

I realize it has been a few weeks now since I’ve posted. I suppose that’s because I’ve done a lot of thinking lately. This may not be as much a post as a little stopping point for evaluation and reflection.

My wife commented to me a couple of weeks ago that she didn’t the “The Quick & Dirty Worship Leader” was really the right name for the blog anymore, and I’m realizing she’s right.

What motivated me to start this blog was my concern over what I perceive as a bad trend in some church worship teams, putting “professionalism” over intimacy, setting the bar so high that people have no place to find their place if they don’t already come ready for the role.

That is still very important to me, but I suppose it says more about what I’m against than what I’m for. I’m for relatively simple approachable worship for a church, that leaves room for growth without closing the door to beginners.

If I had to sum it up, I would borrow and roughly paraphrase John Wimber by saying I’m interested in becoming more and more thoroughly a disciple of Jesus. If I never lead another worship team again, I want that to still be true of me, and while I am leading worship, I want that to be more and more true. At the end of my life I want to be far more like him than I am now. I want to be more free of sin and mediocrity in life. I want to finish strong.

I want to help others to do the same, and I want to find broader ways of doing that. As much as my writing and musicianship helps that, I want to use those gifts. If they don’t help anymore, I don’t want to do them. I don’t want to be owned by my gifts any more than by my money or my desires.

In light of all this, I’m planning on posting more consistently and more often. I spent a couple of days at Jon Acuff’s Start Conference a couple of weeks back and I am still working on how best to share about that experience. I’m pushing myself to live a life full of the right kinds of risk and free from fear. The Start Conference was very helpful for me in that regard, and I can’t wait to share more information. I also celebrated 10 years of marriage to Anna Schulte this past week. I want to share more about what it’s been like to lead worship with her – the good and the bad. And there’s so much more to come.

I’m done for now, but I do want to thank you for continuing to read. I’m excited to share more with you!


The Goodness of God

Photo "And I'm On My Way to Believing" by kidswithfireworks Creative Commons Attribution Some rights reserved

Photo “And I’m On My Way to Believing” by kidswithfireworks Creative Commons Attribution Some rights reserved

A few weeks back, I started following a blog that goes right to my heart, and I’m not sure in the most typical way.  An Atypical Miracle: Phoebe Fights AT/RT Cancer tracks the story of Phoebe Fair, a little girl who has battled an aggressive form of cancer since she was two years old, which would be most of her life at this point. I can’t say for sure that God won’t heal her in this life, but as of a few weeks ago, the plan seems to be to make her as comfortable as possible before Jesus takes her home.

I feel like in even bothering to write about this at all, I run the risk of somehow cheapening what’s going on – as if it existed for me to make some sort of point about. I apologize in advance if I end up crossing that line. My heart hurts for the whole family. Also, if you decide not to read any further, please at least consider giving to the Phoebe Fair Fund, or at least read their blog and remember them in your prayers.

The fact is, every time I think of my son Levi and try to imagine how I would feel in the Fair family’s shoes, I just can’t do it for very long. It’s too much. What keeps getting pressed into is my belief in God’s goodness. Can I think about stories like this, that put an entire family through deep pain – maybe as deep as is possible in this life – and still believe that God is ultimately good?

What’s strange is that my answer is an emphatic yes. Of course I believe! If anything, now more than ever.

This is where I feel strange and out of my element, but honestly, I think sorrow – even deep, excruciating pain – has a way of driving me closer to Jesus. I think what I’m figuring out as I get older is how full of pain life actually is, and how truly desperate I am, how much in need of constant Fathering I am. I’m not made to live apart from Jesus, and yet it’s so easy, in so many subtle ways to do it. When I read about Phoebe, it’s much harder to do that – not because I’m ashamed to compare my pain with hers, but because I feel the invitation in her story to be closer to Jesus because I can see how much he cares about her.  The family’s latest post as of this writing, “Circle” includes this small glimpse:

Phoebe: “Mommy, know who slept with me last night?”
Me: “Yes, Grammy slept with you last night.”
Phoebe: “No, Jesus slept with me last night.”
Me: “Jesus slept with you?”
Phoebe: “Yes, God.”

I think this is the truth of my situation too, and someday I’ll get to go home and rest too. But for now, I get to remind myself of Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21 – “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”

I don’t know the full answer still about why things like this happen, but at least partly because of their story, I don’t think I need the question answered to be okay.

UPDATE: On October 5th, 2013 at 10:30pm, Phoebe Fair went home to be with Jesus. I find I can’t write it without tears, and my heart is still broken for her family and friends, but I do smile when I think of her laughing and playing in her true home at last.


Coursera Songwriting: A Beginner’s Review

Coursera: Berklee College of Music

Coursera: Berklee College of Music

My wife and I today completed the last assignment in Coursera’s Songwriting course, created in coordination with Berklee College of  Music, and starring Berklee professor Pat Pattison. I would like to offer a brief review from the point of view of a beginning songwriter who aspires to be better.

The Good Parts

Clear Instruction and clearly building topics

I have to admit, I haven’t had a writing class since college. I’ve always had an underlying interest in writing and I appreciate clear, step by step instruction. The class consists of  6 weeks and each week focuses on a particular topic, and includes a series of class videos starring Professor Pattison, a series of quizzes, and a peer-review assignment to see how well you can apply your knowledge. Week one begins with the most basic questions in writing of any kind:

Who is talking?

To whom?

Why?

If you can answer these questions, you’re already miles ahead of where you would be otherwise. I find asking these questions will help you find your way through your work without losing your point and your audience. Weeks 2 – 6 add layer upon layer of the technical details of songwriting – how rhymes, numbers of lines, length of lines, phrasing, and melody help create a certain mood in your song. If you can master those skills, you can come up with some truly exceptional music.

Entertaining videos

Maybe it’s my tendency to be sentimental that helps me enjoy watching the videos, but I do truly enjoy watching Professor Pattison explain things. He really does know his topic and is everything you’d expect a rock-n-roll professor to be. Dorky, sarcastic, intellectual, and of course, wearing a leather jacket instead of tweed.

Truly tangible and practical assignments

Every week’s peer-review assignment is completely practical. You’re creating original work almost every week and are learning to analyze it. By the last assignment, you’ve had the opportunity to write several songs in various stages of completion, with at least one complete song by week 6, and you’re able to adjust your existing work to enhance impact.

You get a free sample of Berklee’s full songwriting courses

Professor Pattison and many others teach full 12-week courses online through Berklee College of Music’s online school. The difference is, you pay a substantial amount of money (at the time of this writing, $1,400 per course), and instead of peer review assignments, you get real interaction with a real professor, and can pursue a Master’s Certificate in Songwriting, among other programs.

The Bad Parts

Peer Review Assignments have limited value

Although the course creators obviously make every effort to create peer-review questions that have clear goals, I believe there’s a limited value in having peers who may or may not understand the goals of  the assignments reviewing your work. I found myself scratching my head several times when I would receive a low grade for work I could clearly see met the goals of the assignment. On the other hand, I found that reviewing other peers generally helped me  think more clearly about my work, and the knowledge gained through the videos and simply from doing the assignments has value whether your peers understand it or not. If I’m truly not doing my best work, I’d prefer to have the expert on the topic helping me figure it out, rather than someone who knows just about the same amount as I do, and in some cases considerably less, apparently.

The course only scratches the surface

I guess you could say this about any class, but this course condensed the topic WAY down. Arguably, you could pick up one of Pat Pattison’s books  and may get more out of them, though I think it is fair to say that having some form of interactive assignment helps you learn in a different way than simply reading a book and trying to make yourself follow the assignments inside.

Conclusion

Overall, I loved this course and would recommend it to anyone who’s just starting out as a songwriter. If I were you, I would go to the course page, listed above, and add it to your watch list. I believe they run the class 2-3 times per year. I think I learned plenty, and was able to put out a couple decent songs as a direct result. Once you’re in the class, pay attention to the recommended materials, the song assignments, and keep an eye on due dates so your schedule doesn’t get away from. Once you miss a deadline, you lose points automatically. I already own a copy of Pattison’s book ‘Writing Better Lyrics”, which has chapters corresponding to the course, and I plan to make better use of it going forward.


Dealing With a Hard Week

Dealing with a hard week

Dealing with a hard week

Disclaimer: I wrote this post a few months ago. Since some details might have seemed directed at team members, I was advised and agreed that it would be best to let it sit for a while. I couldn’t tell you at this point who else was on the team besides me and my wife. I couldn’t tell you at this point who other team members may or may not have been, which is a good thing. It gives a better perspective, because in the end it wasn’t really about what they were doing, but really about what God was doing with me and what he continues to do. So, I apologize in advance if you were on my team that week and feel offended. Better yet, email me and let me know. We can work it out! On to the post….

Pardon me if this post seems blunt in its conclusion. It comes from long experience. I led worship last week, and I have to say, it felt rough to me, all the way around. The trouble started early in the  week – Monday, in fact. Here’s what a week looks like at my church – generally, the worship leader for that week will contact the team on Sunday or Monday to schedule practice time. Most of the time it’s on Thursday evening, but every so often, a team member or two will request a different day – usually Saturday. So there’s the first hiccup. Thursday is fine for most, except one who prefers Saturday, if possible. Unfortunately, most can’t do Saturday, so we just move practice a little later on Thursday, only to find out one team member is out of town and can’t make Thursday, but also can’t do Saturday til later, which I can’t do because of a prior engagement.

Unfortunately, though some members might be able to slide , I don’t feel comfortable with this team member being on the team if they can’t make it to the practice, so I have to cut this person from the team that week. This Tuesday is the day we have new speakers professionally installed – something we’ve sorely need for at least a couple of years now. Although this is a positive overall, it requires some EQ adjustments to the system and takes a little time for the sound team to get used to.

When we arrive on Thursday, I decide it would be nice to unwind by testing out the new speakers at a high volume. For me, some Zeppelin does the trick – Black Dog to be specific. My wife, who is on my team, doesn’t feel as relaxed as I do and tells me to turn it down. Finally, it’s practice time. Knowing I will not have a full drum kit, I bring my acoustic guitar, along with my electric, although I prefer to play my electric at least 99.95% of the time. And now here’s where things start to weigh on me. I go through at least 45 minutes of frustration, trying to figure out why my acoustic won’t put sound into the system. Must be a bad battery in my inline tuner. Nope. Pickup battery. Nope. Cable. Nope. Finally, I figure something’s wrong with my pickup and I decide to play my electric the whole set. By this time, I’m wound up and not in a good mood.

Normally, we try to leave room as a team to check in with each other and pray for each other as needed at the beginning of practice. I decide to skip that part because we’re running so late already, planning on having the time at the end. Then comes practicing our actual set. One of our sound men was there to adjust the speakers, and I’m being told I need to turn my amp down. Sigh.

By the end of practice, everything felt like a dog-pile. I was spent and frustrated, and once I said we were done playing, half the band cleared out, and we just let the prayer time go. Sunday morning didn’t start much better. One band member overslept and missed more than half of our pre-service run-through and missed running through half the songs. I wish I could say the morning felt better, but it didn’t. And yet it was clear from feedback after service that Jesus clearly met with a few people.  I wish I could say I felt it, but honestly, I didn’t. I guess now is as good a time as any to stop. I could go on, but I’m sure this type of situation is familiar enough to anyone who’s led worship before. When it comes down to it, whether it’s the norm or it’s a rarity, you WILL have a morning like this, and possibly a lot worse. I’ve certainly had much worse than this. How do I deal with it?

Really, it’s no different from anything else in life. I’m happy to say I didn’t take the immature path and either take it out on my team or my wife, which I’ve done plenty of in the past. As much as I believe that worship time is about connecting in an emotional and / or sub-conscious way with God, there are days that emotions are just not a good basis for the morning. The fact is, God really did show up in positive ways, even though I didn’t feel it.

  1. It turns out the song I opened with tied directly into the sermon. I had no idea that was going to happen, but it was VERY meaningful to the guy preaching that day. It was something he really needed – truly Jesus saying “I love you” to him.
  2. Recently, we lost a long time member of our congregation. She passed away and it was hard on a lot of people in our church. One of the people who was very close to her and was feeling the pain of that situation deeply said that morning’s worship touched her very deeply.

This is when I realize that although I love leading worship and get a lot out of it personally, there will be days that I don’t and it’s still my privilege to serve on those days. I get to “suck it up” and give it everything I have, because in the end, I’m not the focus. Jesus is, and I’m happy for it.

So how about you? How you do you deal with THOSE weeks? How do you get up and do it again?


Helping with my unbelief

Long Journey Ahead

Long Journey Ahead

I was thinking about last week’s post, “Sometimes I don’t believe it“, and realized shortly after that my life has been a journey toward believing more deeply. I still have those struggles, like I mentioned, but I don’t actually have them as often as I used to, nor do they last as long as they used to. I also got a couple of comments from people who either shared similar struggles or were close to people who did, so I thought it might be helpful to share a couple of general approaches that helped change things and a few resources that I’ve found helpful on the journey so far.

Philosophy:

Life with God is a long road

This probably sounds like a cliché at this point but the nice thing is, it relieves the urgency of having to have all the right answers now. Like marriage or any other long-term relationship, I can be content to get to know God better over time if I’m not just trying to wring answers out of it. I can let the relationship shape me and see what happens and be content with the idea that some benefits are just subjective, and the other objective benefits come as a result of close relationship, over time.

I have an enemy out to destroy me, and he doesn’t care how he does it

I’ve figured out over time that Satan actually knows me pretty well, and he knows how to get under my skin. He can act like my best friend if he needs to, or he can be a bully if he thinks that will get him what he wants. Consider this excerpt from “Perelandra” (affiliate link) by C.S. Lewis, book two from the Space Trilogy. To set up the story, the protagonist, Ransom, has been sent to another planet to prevent the same type of fall that occurred with Adam & Eve on our planet. Satan has sent his own representative, possessing the body of another man. Consider their interaction:

“Ransom!” This time he made no reply. Another minute and it uttered his name again; and then, like a minute gun, “Ransom . .  . Ransom . .  . Ransom,” perhaps a hundred times. “What the Hell do you want?” he roared at last. “Nothing,” said the voice. Next time he determined not to answer, but when it had called on him about a thousand times he found himself answering whether he would or no, and “Nothing,” came the reply. He taught himself to keep silent in the end: not that the torture of resisting his impulse to speak was less than the torture of response but because something with him rose up to combat the tormentor’s assurance that he must yield in the end. If the attack had been of some more violent kind it might have been easier to resist. What chilled and almost cowed him was the union of malice with something nearly childish. For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he was in some sort prepared: but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at a preparatory school.

Notice the pettiness of the attack. Previously, the demon tried to reason with Ransom, to win him over using the best logic he knew. When that doesn’t work, he resorts to intimidation and childish behavior. In another section of the story, Ransom finds the creature tearing apart small animals with its fingernails, for the same petty love of destruction. My point is, the arguments brought by others may sometimes need answering, but often enough, at the bottom, they don’t come down to a true interest in finding the right answer, but down to intimidation, and I think Satan is usually right at the bottom. All he cares about is your destruction, pure and simple.

There is always someone smarter

This is something my Dad taught me years ago. I guess it’s something that seems clearer with age,  but for every intellectual out there that will tell you you’re a fool for believing in God at all, much less claiming to have a relationship with him, there are at least as many that are every bit as smart but actually love God as much as you do. You just need to take the time to seek them out. Please remember though, in the end, knowledge is finite, no matter what anyone tells you. Much of the knowledge, especially in the scientific community, considered cutting edge today will likely be considered nonsense in a matter of decades.

This is a very small and incomplete list, but I hope it’s enough to take with you to get started. Now on to a few materials that I have found helpful over the years.

Recommended Resources

Koinonia House

I will say first, this is only one resource, and I wouldn’t agree with everything they have to say, but their audio & video commentaries, especially on Genesis, will help at least get you thinking. Their sources are well referenced and I think they do a great job tying the story of creation to modern physics, or at least give you some food for thought. They also offer audio packages on how we got the Bible, and more than anyone I’ve ever met, defend the integrity of the Bible as a whole, and I think do so very well, though again, some may not agree.

Dallas Willard

His book “The Divine Conspiracy” (affiliate link), does a very thorough job getting to the heart of the matter with what Jesus was setting out to do with people. The best part is, he puts some legs under the idea that Jesus, being God made flesh, is actually the smartest man the world has ever seen. If you don’t believe that about him, there’s not much point in listening to what he asks you to do. I give the warning that Willard can be dry reading unless you like very thorough books.

C.S. Lewis

I think Lewis might be the go-to writer for Christians looking for a basic level of intellectual reason for their faith. “Mere Christianity” is the go-to, I suppose, but honestly, what I appreciate most is how his ideas make their way into his fiction. I referred to the “Space Trilogy” earlier, and I love those books. I think one of his best arguments for belief beyond your natural senses come from his last novel, “Til We Have Faces“, which is a re-telling of  the classical Greek myth of Cupid & Psyche. It took me longer to appreciate the depth of this one, but in the end, it’s one of the best.

The Tolkien Professor

This might seem a little off the beaten path, but I’ve found The Tolkien Professor’s podcast to be extremely helpful for one simple reason: historical perspective. If you listen from the beginning of the podcast episodes, you’ll get a great introduction to J.R.R. Tolkien’s ways of thinking, but you’ll also get a great intro to Medieval literature, which will help you learn how people from a very different time thought about things. Contrary to what you may hear, there were plenty of very smart people in the Middle Ages, who weren’t ruled by the same cultural assumptions that we are, with all their biases and blind-spots. I think one of the best things you can do to broaden your thinking is to learn to get see things from the point of view of a different culture, separated by physical distance and / or time. You’ll be surprised what kinds of assumptions you make about your world that other people don’t / didn’t.

Again, this is not an exhaustive list by any stretch and I hope it’s a help.

 


Sometimes I don’t believe it

Today’s post comes with a disclaimer. I don’t think this post is as much about practical tips for worship leaders as it is about my own personal “stuff.” I hope that’s helpful too.

Today was one of those days. Scratch that, the past few days have been “one of those days.” You know the ones. You wake up and it just doesn’t seem like your day. It’s not as a simple as a bad mood. It’s one of those days you’re just convinced that everything you believe in is just wrong and you’re a complete fool for believing it. I find those days usually have something that sets me off.

Today it was this weird trail that started with a picture of Frank Schaeffer, whom I’ve never met, but who wrote a book called “Dancing Alone: The Quest for Orthodox Faith in the Age of False Religion” (affiliate link). I read this book about 10 years ago after reading some works by his father, Francis Schaeffer. If you grew up in a Protestant church in America during the 70s or 80s, you’ve probably heard of him.

I remember how I felt when I read that book. To sum it up, the younger Schaeffer left the Evangelical traditions of his family and joined the Eastern Orthodox church. The book told his story and made what I thought to be a very angry case for why the Orthodox Church was the one and only true Christian Church. This may be a sign of how impressionable I can be or have been, but I do remember for the first time really questioning my relationship with God and wondering if I simply lacked the depth I could have if I only joined back with a much richer tradition. After all, as Schaeffer put it, what the Orthodox church has going for it is an unbroken line of Apostles that can be traced all the way back to the original 12. I’m part of Vineyard, that apparently likes informality so much that it can’t call itself a denomination :) How could that compare with what Schaeffer found?

This is only one example, though. There are times that I’ve felt the same feelings seeing a book  by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens on the shelf at the book store, like it’s taunting me. I have less patience for those men and can’t say I’ve read a full book from either of them. It’s easier not to be affected by them when they’re so extremely militant in their views. I admit, though, that sometimes I just want to accept their arguments and give it up entirely.

Today brought back all those feelings – doubt, panic, fear, uncertainty –  but at the same time, I was reminded that I don’t know everything and never will. In the end, it’s not even the most important thing. I’ve tried to make the case on this blog that worship is about a relationship with Jesus. In the end, that relationship has its ups and downs, just like my relationship with my wife and son and friends and family. There are days I’m convinced that nobody could possibly love me and that relationships are just too hard. In the end,  I don’t have to justify my relationship with Jesus any more than I have to justify my marriage. I just have to choose to be in them and to come back to the table and engage.

In all fairness to Scaheffer, he seems to have let up a bit on his Orthodox dogmatism, although I think he can still be pretty harsh toward Evangelicals in general, and I think growing up with a genuinely over-the-top family can tend to sour your views on the beliefs you grew up with.

Anyway, I know enough to know I’m not alone here. I know there are plenty of other doubters as well. I’d love to hear more stories from the rest of you.


Sticking with the calling

Sticking with your calling

Sticking with your calling

This week’s post is inspired by more Vineyard worship leader conversations.

The following question was posted today:

“Wondering if you all see a trend in “up and coming” worship leaders the notion that they will end up being paid full-time in a worship leader position. I see some cases where younger musicians set this as a goal (and become frustrated when it doesn’t pan out) and wonder if this is a misguided agenda that has been set by YouTube and the culture of big production churches. Any opinions?”

Along with my comments, serious and otherwise, I did want to share a few thoughts about sticking with the calling, even if it doesn’t end up how you thought it would.

Don’t forget why you started

I’ve loved music my whole life, even for the period of time I didn’t play any instruments – I’ve always been a voracious consumer of new music. I’ve also been in love with worship music since age 11, when I first set foot in Vineyard Christian Fellowship St. Louis. This is what got me the road to leading worship years later, and it’s why, even if I never can make a living from it I will continue to do it. It’s in my blood.

Remember there’s more than one way to make a living in your calling

I have to give credit to Dan Miller (affiliate link) for helping me understand this. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to live this out in practice, but to be transparent, this site is part of that effort, and I’m looking for others methods too. Get really really good as a musician or a songwriter or learn how to share your wisdom and experience in a way that helps others.

Be thankful for what you have

This is a reminder for me as much as anyone. I have a church I love that also loves me back. I have the perfect place to test new songs and to learn how to lead others well. I also have a job that pays the bills right now, and if God wants me there for many years, I will still be thankful.

Keep being brave

This has been a pretty big year for me in terms of owning my role on the worship team. It really started with a trip to the Vineyard Worship Leader’s Retreat Northwest this past February. I honestly contemplated quitting the team. I think I had convinced myself that I wasn’t really going to see any of my dreams for better musicianship, songwriting, etc. fulfilled on that team and thought maybe I would be sticking around for the wrong reasons if I did. Then Andy Park, who was part of my small prayer break-out group gave a public word of knowledge about someone who was thinking of quitting  worship leading. I had said something only to my wife that afternoon, so I was floored when I heard it. Even better, he told me he thought maybe the word was for me when he gave it. This past weekend was yet another step in that process, as our church just hosted a conference for worship leaders. We all got to spend some time with Mike O’Brien from the Vineyard in Marietta, Georgia, and I got to feel again where things could go and it’s been helping me dream even more since.  I can only hope and dream for even more.

I’m sure there’s much more to say on the topic, but I suppose that’s a good start. I hope if you’re getting started in your worship leading  journey, or you’re wondering whether to continue, you’ll take some of these words to heart and at least think and pray about them. Also, please feel free to add more that I missed!