'Bunch of Hypocrites

I'm not sure when it happened(it probably has always been around) but somewhere along the way we bought into the idea that the church should be full of perfect people, or at least full of people who are "just as messed up as me but also just as nice as me" because clearly we would never hurt anyone in the church the way that church people have hurt us and contribute to the culture negatively and of course we wouldn't misrepresent Jesus the way that "those other church people" misrepresented Him. We often judge others by their worst actions and ourselves by our best intentions.

We tell people to "come as you are" and then wonder why our church has so many "issues" when we literally just asked them to come in with all of their baggage too(that's what we're supposed to do because that's how we were welcomed). We want our brokenness to be accepted by our church community but have problems with the brokenness of others, or at the very least we aren't willing to look at our own lives to examine if we might be at least part of the problem, the "hypocritical" church.

That's not to say that our hurt and pain should be swept under the rug, it shouldn't be. (I'm also not addressing abuses of power in the church, that is a whole different post to be treated carefully and compassionately) I've been wounded many times by people in the church, I have stories of hypocrisy and situations that are heartbreaking. The reality is that if we have spent any amount of time at/in a church, most of us have had those experiences as well and it's truly sad.

I think we expect the body of Christ to actually act like they've been redeemed(that makes sense right?), like they've been changed by Jesus and so often they don't and we wonder if they really have been changed.

We are prone to backbiting, judgement, condemnation, cliques and a whole host of other human issues. Are there a lot of fake people in the church? Absolutely, there are a lot of fake people everywhere else too.

Real world problems follow real people into the church because we're people, we have issues, and we bring those issues with us wherever we go. If we claim to follow Christ we should be working on our "stuff", loving people the way that Jesus loved but we're still living on this side of glory. We're still dealing with our broken nature and everyone else's broken nature and for us to be "completely shocked" or at least expect to not run into social/relational problems when our churches are filled with broken is sadly, we might not fully grasp  how bad people are, us included.

So when we're tempted to forget "the church" as a community altogether and just call ourselves a "Jesus follower" let's remember that Jesus told us to love the church and I think he knew how bad it was/would be. He still told us to love. Not to love religion but a group of messy, broken people, a community, not an individual(me myself and I)but a group, others, the church, even the messy ones. Why? Because that's what He did.

Art, feedback and "Hater" Culture

I've been writing, recording and releasing music for about six years now. One thing that I get excited about and have been from day one was leaving a musical legacy or a body of work that I can be proud of as an artist. Like any good "body of work" there is a beginning and at some point an end. There's, good, bad and everything in between if you've done it right. But one thing that I can say about the music that I've released is that there is always something that I've loved about it, that drew me in to create it.

There was something deeply personal about what I've written that compelled me to put in the time and the effort to "work it out". Maybe it was a melody, a lyric in the verse or bridge that spoke to a specific time in my life and that every time I replay the song, it takes me back to a specific moment of heartbreak, joy, struggle or relief. If the music you're penning doesn't do that for you as a writer or an artist it's probably not worth putting out. We must strive for excellence as artists but not to the point where it becomes dibilitating. More importantly we need to feel the words on the page and the notes that we sing and play need to resonate from the deepest part of our soul. If my own song doesn't resonate with me, why would I expect it to speak/resonate with you? 

 From the other side of the coin though, if we don't put out our art for others to hear/see/taste/experience how will we grow as artists and creators? We live in a society of "haters" and "roasters" where we are given all of 5 seconds to prove ourselves and our worth before we become the days "fresh meat".  

If you play it safe you might walk through life moderately unscathed, with some bruises and scares but for the most part, unharmed. Life is hard enough without having "the Internet" and "social media" criticize that which is most personal and meaningful to you, your art. 

No one will have criticized your work because they didn't know it existed. They didn't know you existed. 

Put your work out for people to experience. If they criticize, let them criticize, if they praise you, let them praise you but don't be defined by either.  We can grow tremendously as artists through feedback, it can also be paralyzing and crippling. Take every praise and critique with a grain of salt, consider, evaluate and then move on.  

Hearing what people actually think about what you're creating can be difficult. It's hard to hear someone's 3 minute response to something that you spent days and weeks, sometimes even months creating. There will always be people who don't like what you do and there will always be people that like what you do. When you put out your next song/piece/video/photo, people should love it or hate it, anything in between is apathy. Good art should evoke a response from people. 

Work hard at what you do, create great art and have the courage to put it out there. Receive feedback but don't be defined by it. Life is too short to not do what you love. 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally Here(almost)

Next Monday my band will be releasing our music video for "Kingdoms", the first single from our new EP which we're hoping to release sometime before the end of August, fingers crossed ;) with a second EP that's currently in production and is slated for a September/October release.

When we started this band around the beginning of 2016 we had songs in the works, ideas and vision but nothing really tangible that we could put out.

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About six months later we have our first music video and single "Kingdoms". We were able to work with some amazingly talented people, Michael Sanders our producer has been working with artists in the Louisville/Kentuckiana area for a number of years and recently began with working for "Full Circle Music"(Seth Mosley) out of Nashville, TN. Needless to say, we're grateful to have worked with him on this tune and a few orhers that we have in the works ;) 

We were also privileged to have Jeff Juliano mix the tune for us. Jeff has worked with John Mayer, Paramore and Lifehouse just to name a few. We rounded it out with Dan Shike on the mastering(Francesca Battestelli, Jason Grey, Newsboys).

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Since we finished "Kingdoms" we've made a few trips to Nashville, a combination of writing and production. We're really happy with how the songs are turning out and really excited that we are finally ready to release some music!

The plan is to put out videos for each song on the EP, so if Spotify or Apple Music isn't your thing, we've got you covered on YouTube and Facebook Video. 

This fall is going to be busy for us, more music, more videos and more collaborations(hopefully) with some of our industry heroes. We're excited about the future and feel humbled to be working with such fantastic people. Stay tuned, "Kingdoms" drops next Monday at noon. 

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What Could Happen if I.......

It’s amazing what happens when you start letting go of past hurts and begin focusing on what God can do in you and through you. I know that I experienced God’s blessing during the times of sadness, frustration, even in the times when I was the cause of it, because I know that He’s sovereign and wants good things for me regardless of where my heart may be at. I also know that holding onto the hurt that I experienced caused me to go blind at times and miss some of the things that He had for me that I just couldn’t see and because I chose to dig down and stay in my hurt instead of moving on from it into forgiveness and reconciliation. At the same time, healing is a process. I remember praying, begging God to take away the hurt, take away my feelings of anger and sadness that I seemed to feel constantly. It was a process, it didn’t go away all at once, it didn’t get better all at once, it still hurt but God was working and He is still working.

 

Holding onto my hurt, caused me to hold on to several negative/toxic relationships that were causing a tremendous amount of emotional distress and turmoil. I tried my best to please and to accommodate and when it didn’t work, I’d look at myself time and time again, wondering what I could have done differently, making adjustments and changes only to see the cycle repeat itself. What seemed normal to me wasn’t normal at all, it was actually really dysfunctional.

 

What’s really interesting is that during this time I started praying about and focusing on what it was that The Lord was calling me to do. What was the vision and the calling that He had given to me, what was I supposed to write and create, how was I supposed to carry it out and also who was called to do this with me?

 

It wasn’t a “revelation” that just fell in my lap, where I all of a sudden had it “figured out” but it was something that gradually developed over a number of months. As I started to do this, those relationships started dissolving pretty quickly and as difficult as it was to let them go, I realized things started to feel right again when they really hadn’t for a while.

 

Once I started making changes, God brought people into my life that I thought were long gone and frankly, what I thought had been completely fractured and beyond repair, The Lord began to heal and restore. I was blessed with a number of new and wonderful friendships and in addition to restoring what was lost it seemed like He was beginning to bless aspects of my “music career”(whatever that even happens to be, I don’t really know;). 

 

Relationships were beginning to develop and doors began opening where there were only closed ones before. My writing jumped up significantly in terms of volume, quality and authenticity. I felt like a weight had been lifted and a gate opened that had been closed for a while where I was finally able to express what I’d always felt and known in my heart. I felt a freedom to write and create what was on my heart without fear of judgment or the need to defend it..

 

Constructive criticism from people who care about you, who desire you to put out your best and only your best and who understand what your doing and your calling is a good thing, however hearing from the other crowd can damage you, burry your calling and pull you into an endless circle of self doubt, where you question your ability and gifting in a way that’s damaging because the criticism is meant more to tear down than it is to build up. It’s toxic.

 

I’m not saying that we need to pull away from difficult circumstances and situations when things get difficult, because life is full of difficult things, where all we can do is hang on and keep pressing forward but continuing to live in dysfunction even with the noble goal of “fixing it” can distort your perspective on what’s healthy/right/ok and what’s not.

 

Just a few thoughts as I look back over the past year and a half. God did some great things and I’m excited for what He’s going to continue to do in me and through me as well as the people who have come alongside in the past year. We’re getting ready to launch a new band with guys who have the same vision and purpose. I couldn’t be more excited/hopeful/anxious/expectant. God is going to do great things. Just hold on.

"What Do You Mean?"

Thanks for clicking and no the thumbnail and beautiful image you see above was not completely unrelated click-bait. I listened to Justin Beiber’s new (ish) song yesterday, “What Do You Mean?” so it's kind of relevant:) 

I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a well written pop tune, regardless if it comes from a former Disney teenie bopper or in Justin Beiber’s case, former/current YouTube star turned pop icon. I was a bit disappointed in the tune personally but it’s not terrible song. The title of the song really summarizes the entire main idea for the tune. The guy is trying to figure out what his significant other means and why she won’t actually say what she means/feels. 

“What do you mean? 

Hey, When you don’t want me to move

But you tell me to go

What do you mean?

What do you mean?

Said we’re running out of time

What do You mean?

Better make up your mind

What do you mean?”

The guy just wants to know what she really means and he kind of begs the question, “why won’t you just be honest/real with me?”

You can look at this song from a bunch of different perspectives but I think it’s a really interesting look into where our culture is. Yes, this was written by a few people in a studio, trying to pen a hit but in doing that, they’re also trying to connect with the culture, drawing from personal experience and common issues that most people deal with at one time or another in their lives. We’ve all been that person or been on the receiving end of it, asking the question “what do you mean?”.

If you know me then you’ve probably heard me say this before. Our culture, millennials in particular seem to be hiding behind their phones and screens. The truth seems to be bent more and more on social media and a heated/intense conversation over text message/facebook thread is barely mentioned or brought up minutes later face to face between the exact same 2 people. In fact, it’s like it didn’t even exist but it did because moments later both of them are furiously texting mutual friends about how absurb/ridiculous the other person is. All in the name of venting of course.

I'm also not saying that technology is a bad thing. It's a great thing that we get to communicate and keep in touch with people whom we would normally not see(Highschool/college friends, family, etc.). It's when we choose to disengage from the people physically around us for something that's frankly easier that it becomes a problem and I think we're doing it a lot more than we realize. There is a difference between interacting with people on your phone and interacting with them face to face. It's a lot more difficult to have an actual conversation with someone and "get real" when you have to look at the person that you're speaking to.

Real conversations are difficult to have. They require honesty, openness and deal with the fear of not knowing what the reaction of the other person will be. It’s having the strength to say what needs to be said, deal with what needs to be dealt with in a tactful and loving way. That's how we grow in relationship and in community with other people. Relationships are difficult but hiding behind my iPhone even in the name of venting is really just a cop out, it tends to mire me down in my own opinion rather than inform me of another’s and tends to stir up anger rather than dissipate it.

We're becoming more and more passive aggressive, losing the ability to communicate with others in a way that’s healthy and Biblical. I remember when AOL group instant messaging was a thing. We’d get to school the next day and talk about what everyone said in the thread, it actually felt like the same relationship. It feels different now that we can just group text, include, exclude and complain about whoever we want 24 hours a day without actually having to say anything and really deal with anything and the real kicker is that we’re actually much angrier and haven’t solved anything.

The people that I most admire, respect and enjoy being around are those people who are actively engaged with other people and aren’t usually on their phones. Whether it’s a small group Bible study, a songwriting session, production meeting or family gathering, these people are rarely on their phones and they're also not private group messaging half of the room and intentionally excluding and “venting” about the other half all while conversation and dialogue is going on. It just doesn’t happen. They’re engaged, open and real with the people who are physically in the room. Even as I’m writing this I’m getting convicted about the times already this week when I started to feel that anxious/“I have to check my phone” feeling, gave in, disengaged with the people that were with me and browsed facebook. Technology isn't the problem here but it has given us the ability to disengage quite easily if we want and in many situations when we feel even the least bit uncomfortable, that's exactly what we do.

Thinking of ways to be more encouraging, honest and real in our face to face interactions and resisting the temptation to express all of our frustrations in Facebook threads, tweets and private group messages is probably something that we need to do more of as followers of Christ and will end up helping rather than hurting. Let’s make this a thing.

Your failures and successes don't define you. God does.

The past 5 years have definitely been eventful to say the least. Some wonderful moments which I'm grateful for and ones that I would really rather forget. When I feel like I've kicked a bad habit or some type of struggle, another one seems to take it's place. One of those struggles that has always seemed to hang around is my desire to "people please". If everyone's happy, I'm happy. If they aren't, depending on the circumstances, my day is generally ruined. I know that sounds a bit extreme but I could recount a number of situations where that was exactly how I felt. I let someone down or they didn't have the reaction that I thought they were going to have and it pulls me down. It's something that I've struggled with most of my life and I know others struggle with it as well and I think it's something that's rooted in our fallen nature as human beings.

Part of it seems to stem from our desire to be in right relationship with other people. As others are joyful, especially if it's something that we've done for them, we experience joy. If others are experiencing pain or heartbreak, discomfort or frustration, we can tend to experience those emotions as well. Romans 12:15 says to "Rejoice with those who rejoice" and "weep with those who weep" because it's what Christ has called us to do. However, scripture doesn't tell us to internalize these things(the joys and sorrows) to the point where we become defined by them and therefore our happiness is dependent upon them.

At times I have felt that when I've managed to make everyone in my circle happy, I have felt fulfilled and I could rest easy. I know it's not healthy but it's something that I've struggled with a lot. Recently, God used some really kind and gracious people who showed me how wrong and detrimental that kind of thinking can be and how it's really just a selfish desire in my heart to control the circumstances and situations around me so that I won't experience pain.

Our desire to please people can also come from the same place that our "perfectionism" comes from. As I've grown over the years I've realized that at times mygood desire to improve at my job, worship leadership, songwriting, etc. turned and my happiness and joy were dependent upon what my friends, family, coworkers and piers thought of the job I was doing. If they were impressed, I was happy, if they were disappointed I was depressed. Why did "failure" or really just a failure to please someone else result in me being an emotional wreck just because of what someone else thought of what I did or did not do? The reality is that when I'm holding onto things so tightly(job, relationship, the opinions of others) that my happiness and joy are dependent upon them, when they disappoint and fail(they will) I am devastated.

People, matter, what they think matters. We want to serve people well in our every day lives, doing our best to meet the needs of others, building people up with kindness, and words of encouragement because it's what Jesus has called us to do. However, when we fail in the eyes of others, whether it's something that we actually did or didn't do or just unfair or unrealistic expectations placed upon us by someone who is broken just like we are or the misperception of others, it won't devastate us, it won't wreck us because we can rest secure and be confident that we are loved fully and perfectly by Jesus. Our identity is not wrapped up in our failures and successes, what we do or don't do, our identity is wrapped up in Him. We have freedom to fail, freedom to grow and freedom to live in the love of Christ.

Your failures and successes don't define you. God does.

The Green Room Mentality

I recently came across a short clip of Jesse Reeves(Songwriter, Worship Leader) teaching at the Austin Stone Worship Conference(Austin, TX) from 2013. The clip was entitled “Get Out of the Green Room”. I was intrigued by the title of the clip and checked it out. By the end of the video I was convicted.

Here’s what Jesse said:

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a green room, you gotta get back there, you gotta pray and get ready but you shouldn’t live in the green room. You should be accessible to the sheep.”

I’ve led worship long enough to recognize a few things. The first is that the more I lead and the more that I work at my craft, I realize the immense responsibility that God has given to me to care, teach and lead others in corporate worship not just on stage but off of the stage. It’s not something to take lightly. I’ve also noticed the same thing that Jesse brought up in his message. The Green Room. A sweet escape, a moment of respite from the challenges of ministry. Stepping away while the throngs of people make their way into the gathering space, building anticipation for the moment that the lights dim and you take the stage.

Like Jesse I’ve also been guilty of sipping coffee on a couch and escaping, moments before I’ve taken the stage but to be honest, I’ve never really been comfortable with the “Green Room”. It’s been one of those things that’s offered at many of the places where I’ve had the privilege of leading/playing at and I’ve definitely been grateful for a space to prepare my mind and heart for the stage/worship leading portion of my ministry but I think that having a “Green Room” mentality can be detrimental to our ultimate goal as worship leaders/band members and that goal should be to serve the sheep on and off of the stage and you can’t serve the sheep if you’re “living in the green room”.

I think many worship leaders fall into the “introverted” category. I know I do. I’ve heard the excuse and at times, I have given it myself “I just need to be alone right now to get myself ready” or “it’s just who I am, I need this in order to do my job” and “I need to spend some time in prayer”. There are situations where we need time to ourselves before we go on stage, especially if the day has consisted of non-stop ministry/activity but I’ve found that when time has been given for this that much less “prayer” and “quiet time” has occurred (supposed reasons for green room time).

Another temptation that the “green room” brings is the temptation to “crash” during the sermon. I’ve had some amazing ministry opportunities as a worship leader and some of those have been more time consuming than others(off stage time). Sometimes the band and myself needed to get a moment to breathe, to reflect, especially in the midst of a non-stop day of ministry that was both emotionally draining and physically taxing. We need rest, we need recovery time. In most situations, the message is not the time to do that. For one, it pulls us away visibly from the people we are serving and more often than not, it can communicate a sense of “we don’t need The Word”. As worship leaders and band members we need to be an example for those whom we’re serving, so that they see that God’s Word is a big deal, it’s such a big deal that the band needs to hear it as well! I remember going to a conference at Southern Seminary in Louisville and Charlie Hall happened to be leading worship. He didn't pull himself away into the president's green room but instead was out with all of us conference goers, sitting under the same message for every session. That had a big impact on me.

Secondly(probably more important than the first), We need The Word. We need to hear God’s Word preached to us even if we’re not totally locked in with the speaker. If we believe Heb. 4:12 that says,  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” we also believe that The Gospel can be communicated even through a bad speaker or someone with whom we may not be on the same page with Theologically. Tuning out because we’re not “captivated” by the speaker or because we’re fuming over something that he said is not an excuse. We need to hear The Word.

I’ve found that I’m more focused, prepared and rested for worship when I’ve sat down to hear the message than when I’ve pulled myself away to “crash” or get “downtime”. We sing about how God’s love and His Word refreshes our souls but when it comes down to it, if we’re talking about a long day of non-stop ministry, I’m not so sure that we believe that it does.

Are there times when we need to rest before or after leading worship? Absolutely but let’s try and get ourselves out of this “Green Room” mentality where we end up hiding from the people that we’re supposed to be serving and end up missing out on the most important part of the gathering.

 

 

 

Big Announcements?!?!?!?!?

Over the past 6 months, God has opened some pretty amazing doors, allowing us to work with some of the most talented writers and audio professionals in the industry. The newest single “Echoes” which will be released in about 3 weeks, was recorded at Dark Horse studios in Franklin TN. It was amazing to record in the same space where Taylor Swift, Relient K, Michael W. Smith, Tim McGraw and others worked on some amazing records. Once the recording process for “Echoes” was finished we reached out to a fantastic audio engineer, Craig Alvin who provided a killer mix of the song. Craig has worked on a number of projects with some pretty fantastic artists, "Gungor", "Bethel Music", "Aaron Gillespie",  "Jason Grey", "Audrey Assad" to name a few. We also had Shelley Anderson do the mastering for the song. Shelley has been on a number of fantastic projects as well, Lady Antebellum, Gungor, etc.

It's also been a year and a half since the last album "Refuge" was released. A lot has happened since then and we're excited to announce that we're back in the studio and in the process of writing and recording a brand new album this fall and winter that will be released this coming Spring.

In addition to working on the new record we'll be releasing a total of 8 new music videos this fall, a new video every 2 weeks including the release of the Music Video for our brand new single “Echoes" as well as some additional videos that we think you’ll enjoy! If you've been to our concerts and worship events you've probably heard some of the new tunes we've been playing. We're really excited about releasing some of these songs as music videos to those who have heard us live and for those who haven’t but who have been following us and are friends on social media!

We don’t know where God will take this music but we do know he’s given us a song and a story to tell and we’re open to his will and are beyond excited about what’s ahead! We would ask that you be in prayer for us as we dive deeper into ministry, the Lord may be opening some full time opportunities for us in the next 12 months and we just want to be open to His will for us and serve where He wants us to serve!

Love you guys, thanks so much for every download, stream, T-shirt/merch purchase, high five, hug, word of encouragement, you help keep this crazy thing going!

Think twice about burning that bridge.

Picture this. The scene opens on an office workspace complete with cubicles, computers, desks and an army of employees trying to make it to 5pm. The camera then pans to the managers office where a heated discussion is taking place between employee and boss, arms waving wildly in the air, voices raised, clearly it’s a tense situation. The door opens and the employee storms out of the office yelling a number of insults directed right at their boss for everyone to hear, finishing out with a clear and concise “I quit!”.

I know I’ve seen a number of scenes exactly like this one at one time or another in a movie or on television. The mean, unreasonable and incompetent boss finally gets what’s coming to him and the employee finally get’s his “I quit” moment. I remember telling myself “someday I’ll have my one sweet I quit moment where I go out in a blaze of glory, the room erupts in cheers and the rest of the group walks out with me in protest and the “evil boss” collapses in defeat. End scene.

I’m pretty sure that almost every person has had the “I Quit” fantasy run through their mind at one time or another. We’ve all had bad teachers and bad leaders at one point or another in our lives and been a part of groups that, even though they may have had “good intentions”, we ended up feeling like we’d been left on the side of the road and what we did and who we were just didn’t matter to them. It’s the reality of working in a fallen world with fallen people who are just as broken and messed up as we are.

I’d like to offer a few thoughts on why the storming out of the office in a glorious, and maybe not-so “righteous” fury (whether in person or online) may not be such a good idea.

1.     When I leave in such an outrageous fashion in an attempt to “stick it to the man”, I risk isolating myself from friendships and relationships that were built and developed at my work/school/social group/club/ etc. I’m also very likely…no, guaranteed to completely destroy any future interactions, engagement or professional relationship with the organization/individual/group/church and possibly anyone that is, friends with, followers of, or connected, even in just a small way to the group/church/company that I just went bazerk on. Basically, it’s like throwing a Molotov cocktail into your social network. Congratulations and good luck with re-building your burned and completely destroyed bridges! There have been times when I absolutely wanted to “let ‘em have it, whether face-to-face or via social media and if I had chosen to do that, it would have been an absolutely terrible personal and professional move to have made and one that I would most likely have regretted and felt the repercussions of for years after.

2.     When I leave my place of employment or group of friends in an outrageous fashion, contrary to what I might think is going on, that I’m making a stand or that I’m turning the tables on those who have wronged me, I actually am doing real and serious damage to my reputation. It shows people who at one point may have believed in me and believed in my character, that they were actually wrong about me and my character. I have effectively cut my legs out from underneath of me and have ruined any chance that people would actually hear me or anything that I had to say. The reality is that leaving in a “blaze of glory” tends to do more damage personally and professionally more often than not and it actually pushes people away from you and your “cause”.

3.     When I leave in an outrageous way it actually dishonors God and ends up damaging my witness to others.

1 Peter 2:12 “Be Careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.

God doesn’t call us to be pushovers but He does call to live honorably by our behavior towards others

“Philippians 2:14-15 “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky”

You cannot please everyone but I really want it to be said of me by those who were “for me” or “against me” that I loved well, that I built others up instead of tearing them down and treated people with the same grace and kindness with which Christ treated me. Let’s think twice about burning that bridge.

Everyone Hates Me

Traveling around the country over the past 2 weeks I’ve learned a few things. For starters the best tex/mex food is in El Paso, Texas and depending on where you are the best bar-b-cue could be in North Carolina, Kansas City or Texas. Also, just because your trailer lights work in Louisville doesn’t mean that they’ll still be working when you get to Dallas. Not all of California is warm. New Mexico and Arizona can be just as cold as the Midwest. Finally, leaving is hard and coming back home is always the best thing ever. Period.

Our “West Coast Tour” was the first tour that I ever planned/booked/managed. It required hours and hours of pre-tour work including but not limited booking, venue/event details, financial organization/planning/budgeting, travel accommodations, song selection, contracts, tour rehearsal, individual job assignments, people management, time management and everything in between.

All of this while trying to keep the main thing the main thing, helping people see Jesus at our concerts and worship gatherings by singing song filled with truth and pointing people to The Gospel. We had food, really nice accommodations amazing hosts at every stop and everyone received a stipend. We also raised enough money to record a brand new single this spring down in Nashville at Dark Horse Studios. All of this as an independent band without the support of management, a booking agency or a record label. God was good to us. Really good. We had the privilege of driving across the country and serving local churches and organizations with The Gospel presented through music.

Leadership is never easy. Especially when your in charge of caring for the spiritual well being of the people that you’re going to serve as well as the well being of those on your team. It can be a very heavy responsibility.

It’s also extremely important to admit when you’re wrong, communicate your strengths and delegate in those areas that you’re weak and through God’s grace strive to serve people better in the future and even be willing to change course in the moment if need be. As a leader (steward), I want people to be able to serve with joy and if I’m not displaying servant leadership it can make the jobs of those serving with/under me more burdensome. While it’s their job to serve regardless, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my heart, motives and actions are right, so as to make it a joy for them to serve, not a burden.

Leadership also requires fortitude and steadfastness especially when it seems like “everyone hates me”. They usually don’t, they probably just don’t like you in the moment or don’t like something you did:) While on the tour I had failed to communicate a key aspect of the plan to several of the band members and as a result, they responded accordingly with what information they had. Which happened to be only a small glimpse of the entire picture. Not their fault, why? I failed to communicate some key details to several of my detail oriented band mates. Humble servant leadership requires putting the needs of others above your own and being willing to own up to your failures as a leader and change course if need be.

Leadership also requires making tough decisions and being the bad guy. Some of the most humble and servant hearted leaders that I have ever served with have also been some of the most wise and decisive leaders I have ever known. They know when and how to give grace mercy in the form of second chances and they know when to let people go when attitude, performance and ability become a hindrance to the ministry as well as the individual. Letting someone go can be difficult but it can also be the most necessary thing to do for the ministry and for the individual as well.

Leadership also requires knowing who to let in on the evaluation process of your work/art/leadership. Bringing in people who are knowledgeable and more gifted than you is key to developing what it is that you do. They also need to be people that you trust and who have your best interests at heart. Shutting out people who disagree with you and surrounding yourself with “yes men/yes women” will keep you at the point of mediocrity and will only serve your ego, not better you as an artist or leader.

Humble, servant-hearted, selfless leadership is what serves people well and glorifies Christ, our selfish and prideful ego does not.

West Coast Tour

 

The past 2-½ weeks have been an absolute whirlwind. We arrived back home from our west coast tour at 7:00am on Wed. morning and to say that the band was tired would be an understatement. We traveled over 6,000 miles by car with our gear and whatever else we could carry with us in tow. We went from one extreme to the next. Experiencing near freezing temperatures as we were leaving Louisville, KY to sunny and 75 at our first stop of the tour in Yuma, AZ. Of course all traveling was done in the comfort of our air conditioned and heat controlled all terrain vehicle, so I guess we can’t really complain.

After our first stop at Foothills Southern Baptist Church where we had the joy of serving pastor Joe Johnson and his church family (very kind and gracious hosts who love Jesus and people very well) in Yuma, AZ, on Wed. (2/11) It was one of our most diverse worship nights and exactly what the church should look like, multi-generational and multi-ethnic. We saw people from all different walks of life lifting their hands in worship and bolding singing God’s Word. After the worship night, we took a brief respite then headed off to Irvine, CA, passing through San Diego (seriously one of the most beautiful parts of the country I’ve ever passed through), and arriving in Irvine, CA sometime around mid-afternoon the next day.

We had the privilege of playing for CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ) at The University of California Irvine on Thursday (2/12). It happened to be our only “college” event of the tour but was really refreshing for us as a band being able to connect with students and staff, especially after having travelled close to 2,500 miles in the past 4 days.

We loaded up after being treated to a California staple “In and Out Burger” by our wonderful host Jon Roper (Director of CRU UCI) and his wife. Is “In and Out Burger” really that good? Well, we like it and Californians will fight you to death over it, so we’re inclined to agree.

After a late night/early AM drive to Fresno, we headed 30 minutes down the road to Chowchilla, CA to play a DNOW (weekend youth retreat, 2/13-2/15) at Valley Harvest Church. For the next 3 days our band continually bragged about 75 degree weather, palm trees, while our friends and family were suffering through 8 degree temperatures and 8 inches of snow. Obviously we’re still being sanctified:) The weekend was absolutely wonderful. We were treated like family by pastors Bobby Dibler, Brian Mott and our amazing host Gaylyn Mott. We heard testimony of how God was working in the lives of students and leaders and changing hearts through The Gospel. What’s amazing is that we were able to see hearts changed because of The Word, sung and preached at every church/organization that we went to, in what was for us a foreign land. God’s Word transcends community, culture and geography. No matter where you are it stays the same and is always relevant.

We spent 3 amazing days with our friends at Valley Harvest and headed back down to southern California for 2 days off (2/16-2/17). We toured the Fender USA Factory, Disney Land (Richie’s request) and some of the band even went to Huntington Beach in Orange Country to see the sunrise. Unfortunately due to Southern California traffic they were a tad late, even after leaving at 5am.

Our next stop was at Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, CA where we had the privilege of playing for PULSE Student Ministries where over 250 students from the community were able to hear the Gospel. Jeremy Doyle, the high school pastor at Valley was extremely kind and gracious during our brief time in Bakersfield, providing, food, housing and of course a place for us to serve.

We headed off to the Sacramento area where we played at Cypress Baptist Church (2/19). Chris Crain is one of the pastors at Cypress and wanted to challenge his student’s understanding of what worship looked like, so we had the privilege of teaching the students through song and word on Biblical worship. Chris has poured his heart, resources and energy into Cypress Baptist Church over the years and we can see the amazing work that God is doing through him and the leadership at Cypress.

One of our last stops on the tour was the Winter Youth Retreat (2/20-2/22) at Jenness Park, located in Cold Springs, CA where we were able to reconnect with their amazing staff and a number of students and leaders that we met this past summer at FUGE Camps. Director Barry Lloyd and John Jeleti were extremely gracious hosts, taking care of the needs of a band on tour that happened to be a very long way from home and making us feel like family. We had the privilege of seeing 12 students (that we know of) make professions of faith in Jesus Christ over the weekend. I never grow tired of seeing The Gospel transform people during corporate worship. It reawakens sleeping believers and it brings people who were lost to the loving arms of our amazing Savior.

After finishing up at Jenness park on Sunday, we decided to brave the cold and the snow and travel through the Sierra Nevada mountains to our last stop at Bridgeport Christian fellowship(Sunday Night, 2/22), in Bridgeport, CA. Nichole Crim was our contact person and host while we were in Bridgeport and we were blown away by her amazing hospitality. Kevin and Nichole moved their family to Bridgeport, CA, a small fishing town, away from family and friends a number of years ago, following a call for Kevin to pastor a small church in north central California, Bridgeport Christian fellowship. It’s amazing hearing stories like these where people are truly giving up what they love and cherish, even family and friends for the sake of the Gospel.

We stayed in Bridgeport Sunday night and headed back to Louisville, KY traveling over 2,200 miles in about 48 hours so we could get back home to family, worship leading and teaching responsibilities. We were absolutely blown away by the love and support that we received while out on tour on the west coast. Our goal was to reach and encourage students and leaders with The Gospel. Each and every church, host, pastor and leader allowed us to serve with joy and energy because of the love that they showed us. We’re blessed to be able to share The Gospel through song and wait with eager expectation for what God has in store.

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Newsflash: Your 18-Twenty Something Worship Leader is Immature(Don't get angry:).

This past Sunday I had the privilege of serving a local church in my area as a guest worship leader. It was a joy to be able to work with the musicians who happen to be fantastic people and are eager to serve the church with their musical gifts in corporate worship. We had a wonderful time of fellowship during rehearsal and it was clear, while we all clearly enjoyed making music, it really was about pointing people to Jesus through song and not our individual gifts and musical ability.

I was reminded, as I have been so often over the past 6-8 months, of what a privilege it is to lead God’s people in worship. Also, what a terrifying responsibility it is as well. I’ve had moments like that this year, at different events/churches/services, where I had a profound and clear and at times, terrifying realization that I am a steward of The Gospel, entrusted to share the good news through song and to lead people through the truths found in God’s Word and as much as is humanly possible, remove barriers and help people engage during corporate worship.

Leading people is not about me and at the end of the day, it’s not even about the team that I serve with, it’s about bringing to light the truth of The Gospel in song and helping people to see that Truth in the clearest way possible.

The church happens to be a really unique place for “musicians”. Only in a “church” can a spiritually immature and musically inexperienced 18- twenty-something year old be given the chance to lead (steward The Gospel, care for people’s hearts, lead a team of equally broken people) 50-1,500 people in song and the only qualifications that are required are that they sing, play guitar and are a Christian (and often times in that order). Most bands and artists would kill for 50 people at their next show, let alone 1,500. The only 18-twenty somethings I know that are playing for that many people outside of the church are signed to a major label deal. So, your worship leader and ___________ are playing for 50-1,500 people every week and the difference is that your worship leader is in charge of caring for people’s souls and ministering the Gospel through song and ___________ ‘s job is to entertain. That’s a huge responsibility and a responsibility that I don’t think many pastors consider nearly as much as they should when they hire their next “Chris Tomlin”. As worship leaders(especially young worship leaders) and musicians in the church, we can tend to confuse leading worship and entertainment and often times the two become one and we don’t even realize it. 

I’ve found that a struggle common with many worship leaders and music teams (I’ve seen it in myself), is a very subtle and sometimes not so subtle sense of entitlement that gets developed from “leading” in front of 50-1,500 people every week. We hear, “you guys should make cds!”, “I went to a Hillsong Concert last night and you sound just as good!” or “You guys could be the next Passion!” We become “local Christian rockstars” in our church communities and hear encouragement from well meaning people who are genuinely trying to encourage us because they’re blessed by our ministry.

However, such praise, while encouraging, should be taken with a grain of salt. In knowing that we are not defined by the praise and criticism we receive, that can help us put it in the proper perspective and keep our motivations and hearts pure (er). Also, such aforementioned praise can often be overblown and unrealistic and can tempt worship leaders and music teams to dreams of “Christian Worship Rockstardom” (Hillsong, Bethel, Passion, Elevation, etc.), when the calling God has placed on their lives is to serve their local church communities (which is a huge honor and privilege).

Our jobs are to serve people with The Gospel and not our music dreams and personal artistic aspirations.

One of the challenges is that often times the church is the only outlet for musicians to play and use their gifts. Not every guitar/drummer/bass player has an outlet for what they do. This is one reason why it’s so important to remind people that their job, whether tech or lead vocals, is to bring people The Gospel and as much as is possible, provide a distraction-less environment for people to encounter Jesus in.

Every song selection, set-list, lighting adjustment, tech decision, venue decision that worship leaders and music team members make should be met with the question, is this going to help people see Jesus and His Word or me and my ministry?

The reality is, is that most church bands and worship leaders (99%) are not called to the type of ministry that groups like Hillsong and Passion and others like them are called to but being called to serve the local church, whether 50 or 1,500 is an amazing privilege and responsibility that we should not take lightly as worship leaders and church musicians.

We are called to be faithful, not rock stars.

I Will Follow

Life is full of challenges. Every day it’s something new. You wake up late, can’t find your clothes, there’s “nothing” to eat, “nothing” to wear. Already late, you walk outside to the car to find several inches of ice caked on your windshield and you can’t find the “scraper”.  Fantastic. Just a few everyday challenges that we all face. Maybe it’s something “deeper”, something “bigger”. A family member gets diagnosed with cancer, a friend passes away. We’re left wondering, “why me”, “why them”, “how could this happen”.

 

In Romans 5:12 Paul tells us that “just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-“. Because Adam’s transgression the entirety of humanity was infected with and accountable for the sin in their hearts. So death entered the world, not just a spiritual death but also a physical death, pain, suffering and anguish. Even the mundane is hard. Genesis 3:19 “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. 

 

We are called to follow Jesus in the good and in the bad, in times of blessing and in times of trial. We are not promised a house, a warm bed, a car or even a spouse but we were promised and have been given something far greater. The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

 

“I Will Follow” is a beautiful acknowledgement of the blessings and brokenness that life brings and following Jesus in the midst of blessing and trial and ending with the glorious hope that we have in Jesus, a sweet and eternal reward, paradise forever with our Savior.

No More Pre-Service, Top 40 Radio Covers Please. Thanks.

I came across an article the other day that went on to discuss the latest trend in worship music. EDM. Electronic Dance Music. The author briefly touched on the musical trends in mega churches over the past 20 years and how styles have changed about every 5 years, eventually reassuring guitarists that their prominent role in today's worship music shouldn't really diminish because EDM is too out there, most churches don’t use a click (which is basically a necessity for this genre) and it’s a bit too complicated/requires too much of a time commitment for your run of the mill volunteer church musician/worship leader. Basically, EDM worship music is not going to last, have no fear.  For universal appeal stick to a basic pop sound for contemporary worship.

Given that the article was addressing the “Hottest Trends” in worship music and referring strictly to musical style and that it was a bit tongue in cheek at times when describing worship “trends” and “fads”, I found myself smiling at the humor of the “worship culture” that we’ve created. I was also struck with one glaring thing after I finished the article. I think we’ve missed the point. Big time. The Gospel.

Articles like this seem to be popping up more and more. Some author is discussing the trends in worship music and what all of the “mega churches” are doing. It’s this really weird sub culture that isn’t really a Christian sub-culture since “Christ” really has nothing to do with what’s being discussed but it’s happening in church and supposedly it’s all for Christ, so I guess it’s “Christian”. It just seems to me that it’s more important to be relevant, trendy and un-offensive in this day and age than it is to be Gospel centered. 

I have friends that want nothing to do with the church’s attempts at “relevance” with regards to a church service or any type of weekly church gathering because it just seems fake to them. It can also be kind of confusing and a lot weird. I’m also pretty sure we’re not attracting people to church with our poor attempts at mimicking pop culture in our gatherings.

An un-churched individual walks into one of our gatherings, they’re greeted warmly by people, offered coffee and asked to join the rest of the group in this massive industrial looking cathedral. The band starts playing a Philip Philips song (insert any top 40 song) and it’s awkward because, they just heard it on the radio on their way to what they thought was church or maybe they just heard the artist in concert the night before and what they experience when they arrive is this awkward looking eclectic group of people playing a really weird and to honest, mediocre version of the actual song that they just heard the night before. They thought they were going to church, not a mediocre karaoke club.

The lights go down, the band starts and they’re punched in the face with this weird mix of EDM, Mumford and Sons and U2 (complete with lights and fog, surprise we’re giving you a rock show as well!) because the pastor and the worship leader (who are genuinely trying to reach people) want to appeal to all and be relevant at the same time.

After the church passes around the plate and another mediocre version of a top 40 radio hit/k-love song is played, the pastor comes up and delivers a motivational message that is some type of mix between the smiling pastor they saw last Sunday on TV and Oprah. 

They leave, extremely weird”ed” out at what they just experienced and they still have no clue who Jesus is because the church was so consumed with being relevant that Jesus got worked out of the mix accidentally. Whoops, there goes Jesus. We accidentally replaced Him with a weird, mediocre, “un-offensive” EDM, Mumford, U2 top forty band, and motivational speaker, who told them that all they really have to do is change their thinking and that regardless of what they’re going through, stuff will get better…which is actually extremely weird and kind of insensitive all at the same time.

When the church tries to be relevant, stuff can tend to get weird. When the church starts to replace what Jesus said and taught with coffee, flashy light shows, mediocre, inspirational tunes and a motivational speaker who looks like Steve Jobs and sounds like Oprah, the people that they’re genuinely trying to reach get really freaked out and can tend to miss Jesus, who is the reason for our gatherings because they’re distracted by all of our attempts at being relevant. Instead of giving people the gospel we give them a bunch of things thrown into a blender that actually lack any sort of spiritual nutrience….but wait…we played “Oceans” and “In Christ Alone”, those songs should make up for our “Gospel-less” service right? 

We need to be constantly reminding people of the Gospel and incorporating it throughout our gatherings. We also need to stop trying to copy what every other church is doing, what ever other worship band is playing and just be what our communities need us to be, real, honest, authentic and relentlessly bringing the Gospel into our gatherings. Life is way too hard to be given fluff and cotton candy on Sunday morning when what we really need is substantive, Gospel centered worship and preaching. If we happen to strike the same musical chord as the culture does, great but most of the time we won’t and hopelessly trying to copy what the culture is already doing isn’t really going to help. We need to stop playing follow the leader and start creating something unique, something Gospel centered, something new. When we do that, when we stop playing copycat to whatever the hottest trends are in churches that are 50 times our size and completely different from a cultural standpoint, relevance will come. Great music will come, great art will come. People are attracted to authenticity. When we keep the Gospel at the center and stop bowing down at the alter of cultural relevance, people will be changed and affected in deep life-altering ways that no top-forty-worship-cover band-thing (that sounds really weird) could ever do. Sing The Gospel and preach the Gospel. The rest will fall into place.

He Will Hold Me Fast

I wanted to share a song that we've started singing at my church. The name of the song is "He Will Hold Me Fast" written by Ada Habershon (1861-1918) with additional lyrics and music written by Matt Merker. It is an amazing reminder that we have our hope and eternal security in a God who will not let us go. The love of Christ, evidenced by His sacrifice assures us of this hope and truth. Regardless of what we've done or what we will do, Christ will hold us fast. There is nothing that can be done to pull His love from us.


Verse 1:

When I fear my faith will fail, Christ will hold me fast;

When the tempter would prevail, He will hold me fast.

I could never keep my hold through life's fearful path;

For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.

Chorus:

He will hold me fast, He will hold me fast;

For my Savior loves me so, He will hold me fast.

Verse 2:

Those He saves are His delight, Christ will hold me fast;

Precious in his holy sight, He will hold me fast.

He'll not let my soul be lost; His Promises shall last;

Bought by Him sat such a cost, He will hold me fast.

Verse 3:

For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast;

Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast.

Raised with Him to endless life, He will hold me fast

Till our faith is turned to sight, when he comes at last!


You can hear a rough recording of the song here: 

 

Christ's sacrifice on the cross was enough to satisfy the wrath of God an pay the debt that we could not afford. It's amazing to listen to and sing a song that reassures us of the scriptural truths that Christ's sacrifice was once and for all on the cross was enough to cover the weight of my sin. "For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast; Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast"

These are the type of songs that we need to incorporate into our worship gatherings. I would say that songs like these are typically lacking in many worship services around our communities. It's not that we should fill our services with only songs like "He Will Hold Me Fast" but it's part of the liturgy that's missing in many of our churches. We need to remind ourselves of The Gospel everyday and we also need to be reminded that because of The Gospel, our surety before the throne stands and there is absolutely nothing that can pull us away from The love of Christ. We need to challenge ourselves to dig deeper in the songs that we sing and the truth that we proclaim.

 

A Song for The Underdogs.

We spent a lot of hard work, our passions, emotions and energy into putting this music video together as a band(The Beautiful Discord) and I know I speak for the rest of the guys when I say, we are thrilled, excited, stoked, pumped, amped...you name it, that's how we feel about releasing our first music music video.

Life is difficult, it's full of trial, struggle, tribulation and it doesn't get easier as you walk through. The amazing thing is that, as believers we have a hope in Jesus Christ, a secure and unmovable foundation that gives us even more than an amazing hope for the future but confidence and security for the here and now. God doesn't abandon us to the storms of life to wither and die. He uses our trials and struggles to point others to the reality of the cross and Jesus' sacrifice for us. Even when all hope seems lost, God has not and will not give up on us. He proved it to us by sending His Son Jesus to die as an atonement for our sin.

We have all felt at one time or another(I know have) like the "Dark Horse", the underdog, the one that everyone seems to be against. It's unjust, it's not right but it's reality. People are sinful and  broken, we've all been the "causers" and "casualties" of brokenness. I chose to shoot and record "Dark Horses" because I feel that it's an expression of a place that we've all been and if we haven't, we will be at some point.

God uses the good and the bad in your life to make you more like His Son Jesus, remember, nothing is wasted, not even the broken.

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ"

Philippians 1:6



Do We Really Want to Hear Your "Expert" Opinion?

I'll go ahead and say it. Great art never(rarely) comes from music critics. We've all run into people(and have probably been that person at one time or another, I know I have) that loves to boldly proclaim the successes of their favorite artists and the failures and shortcomings of the ones who aren't worthy of their(often self-proclaimed) "golden ear".  They will let you know their unsolicited opinion every time they see a post or tweet, hear a song or see a picture of the artist that happens to be the unfortunate victim of their "golden ear" and let you know that the only reason why _______ "made it" or "got signed" is because they were made into the artist that they are and actually, they aren't really an artist at all and have no talent. Often times said "music critic" will boldly proclaim in exaggerated terms and "verbage" his/her dislike of the artist and point to their "character" and lack of talent from a show that they went to or a video that they watched. "They suck", "that artist has no talent", "how in the world did they get a record deal?". The root of the issue is pride and often some type of insecurity and jealousy.

I've done it before and it's not right. We judge another artist's work and then go beyond what would be "acceptable criticism" and start launching into assaults on their character. For some reason, we like to forget Matthew 7:1-3 "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" I particularly like the KJV, it's quite poignant. "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again". 

When it comes down to it, pride is at the root of most of our criticism. Often times it's because we feel insecure or are frustrated with another individuals success and frustrated with the lack of ours. We say that it's because no one else is standing up for what is obviously a travesty for the world's artistic sensibilities and that people need to hear what we have to say, when what it really comes down to is that we think we are better than others. It's pride. Proverbs 29:23 "One's pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor". Proverbs 26:12 "Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him" Galatians 6:3 "For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself"

At the end of the day we are nothing apart from Jesus Christ and his work on the cross. All of our criticisms of others are just vain attempts to elevate ourselves over others that we deem "less" or "undeserving" and ultimately we're creating idols out of our work, art, friends and creating enemies in our own minds out of people we should be giving grace to, regardless of what we think of their artistic contribution. Philippians 2:3 "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves".

The opinions of self proclaimed "music critics", "art critics" or whoever is pounding you with constant negative opinions are often uninformed, biased and mired down in the "rightness" of what they think and feel and their experiences and they aren't usually willing to look at any other side but their own and the people that agree with them(which don't typically amount to very many).

It's easy to criticize and find fault with another person because people are flawed and sinful. Finding and pointing out the flaws in others is easy, pointing out the good, giving grace and loving others is not but it's what God calls us to do.

Be a creator and not a critic. If you constantly criticize, you'll never be able to create. No one really wants to hear what you have to say anyway......unless they ask. 

Capturing your "Inspiration" and "Creativity"

Creativity and inspiration are funny things. They seem to strike at the most inopportune moments during the day. I'll be occupied driving the car or out with friends and then it strikes. There I am without a means to capture that "next great idea". As surely and quickly as it came, my moment of genius is gone and I'm left wondering what happened, where it went and if I can ever get "it" back.

After several of these moments of "genius" arrived and then quickly left me without a means to catch them, I got an iPhone. No, really. I got an iPhone.

If you are a songwriter, artist, "creative" and you are not utilizing some type of recording app on your smart phone then you will always be missing out. I've written, drafted and flushed out a number of songs during times of the day/night when I was occupied with other activities and events but was able to capture a melody, lyric, hook, idea by just hitting the little red button on my iPhone recording app. It was that easy. I archived it and saved it for a later date. Just make sure you actually go back through your moments of "Genuis" and work through them. There may be nothing "Genuis" about them at all and you may not even use them but at least you created something, you participated in the process of creativity and your development as an artist and that is invaluable.

Also, get a Moleskine, you will feel creative even if you've never written a song in your life, also, your hipster friends will start inviting you out for coffee. The Moleskine is magical.

The iPhone, a Moleskine, these are just tools to use, just canvases that you can use to create something unique, something that's "you". You'll never know when creativity and inspiration will strike, so be ready to grab them wherever you are.

Creativity Vs. Follow The Leader/Worship Leader Fan Syndrome.

If you have been raised in the church or are a part of any local church community and have access to a web browser and facebook, you're probably a part or at least have access to one of the many branches of "Christian Sub-Culture". This "Sub-Culture" exists where individuals of a common faith gather around a particular set of ideas, beliefs, theology and for our purposes, film and music. 

We are all fans of something. It's usually a particular sports team, athlete, actor/actress, band or musician. We follow these groups, ideas and individuals religiously, spending significant amounts of money on their concerts, movies and albums all in the name of leisure, hobby and pursuing our "God given" passions. Nothing wrong with hobbies at all. Nothing wrong with being a fan either(just watch out for idolatry).

As a musician I have a number of bands, artists and musicians that I admire and respect within the industry. I follow these groups and individuals because I respect their art, talent and skill and believe that much can be learned from what they have created and experienced during their careers and ongoing ministries as artists.

That very same art that we respect, listen to and consume on a daily basis can be the thing that limits us as songwriters, worship leaders and artists. One of my criticisms with the "Worship Music Industry" is that it has created a culture of follow the leader. Artists, producers and record labels see the success of a Chart-topping Worship album and begin to craft their songs and production to emmulate the success(often well deserved and earned) of other artists.

As worship leaders, we see the most recent album/live concert of our favorite worship artist on youtube. We study that video and arrangement over and over again, so that we will have missed absolutely nothing and so that we'll be able to take our knowledge of the arrangment to the church and replecate exactly what we experienced on youtube and what the patrons/worshipers experienced at their live event down to the dotted eighth delay settings.

While well meaning worship leaders are trying to genuinely serve their local churches, they can forget that they are serving "their" local church not some other local church, who's band happens to be signed to a large record/publishing deal. Our focus should be on chosing songs and learning music that helps people to know, see and experience Jesus through the songs that we sing and the presentation of those songs on Sunday morning. When we play follow the leader, we can tend to chose songs and create a worship order/liturgy that is more focused on replacating what our favorite worship leader just did at their home church.

I'm not saying that lights, production and genuine attempts at engaging the culture through the tried and true practices of another is a bad thing but it can tend to become the main thing and be a temptation for the artists and musicians to focus on the performance and production rather than pointing people to Jesus.

Playing follow the leader will rarely foster creativity anywhere, especially in church music. Now, not every church is called to put out and produce music for their community and the church at large but it's important as a worship leader/music director to foster an environment of creativity because we want our local churches and communities to thrive and develop art, music and traditions that our special and unique to them, not a carbon copy of what another church is doing.

If you are a worship leader who feels called to write songs, start writing. Listen to cutting edge music, listen to writers who are gifted in different areas, melody, lyric and so on. Listen to the best and develop your writing style around the best. The only way that we can grow as writers, artists and worship leaders is to constantly challenge ourselves with what is next musically and writing with and spending time with other writers. Being a fan is dangerous for an artist, it can stifle creativity and hold us back. Let's be creators and not fans.

Church and Worship Music. We. Are. Not. Rockstars.

Music and art are strange creatures. Music is, by definition art, and one definition of art could be "the expression of human creative skill and imagination" as expressed in but not limited to poetry, literature, painting, dance and music. There are many different contexts in which art and music can be expressed, a gallery, concert hall, any public or private forum can be a place for human expression.

So where does our "human expression" fit in the context of the gathered church during "corporate worship"?. For centuries the church was seen as the purveyor of art, music, creativity. Churches were adorned with brilliant tapestries of human emotion and expression. Worship gatherings were places where musical masterpieces saw their debut. The church was on the cutting edge of "human expression" or "art", musical and visual.

One criticism of our current church culture is that we are putting out "art" that is sub-par and that does not measure up. Where the church used to be on the forefront of "art", "human expression", we are now lagging pitifully behind, typically 5-10 years within the church. We have created a sub-culture where we play follow the leader. Pick your favorite worship artist and play their most recent album at your church for corporate worship and three months later, pick your other favorite worship leader's/church album and play that album. Repeat every three months, over and over and over again.

No matter how musically or culturally relevant your favorite "worship artist" or "church band" is, we are still playing follow the leader and we will never actually create something new. Just another tried and true carbon copy of the last worship service in a different key.

Now another point. Is it the church's job to be on the forefront of culture, creating the most cutting edge and provocative art possible? Is it our job to be so relevant that Rolling Stone would place our favorite Christian or worship artists on the cover of their magazine? I would argue that while, it's a blessing to have Christian artists on the forefront of music and art in our culture, the job of the local church is to faithfully serve the "local church".

Worship leaders are not rock stars. Your job, my job is to point people to Jesus and not to ourselves and not to point people to our favorite worship leaders and Christian artists by substituting a faithful worship liturgy with the "Favorite" tab in our iTunes library. So often we tend to chose songs that make us sound better and elevate us as vocalists or instrumentalists under the guise of picking the right song so that we can "confidently lead" our churches during corporate worship. We chose songs that move us emotionally, thinking that since it moved us, since the song is loosely based off of a passage of scripture and it pops up as worship in the CCM database, it must be appropriate for "my church" and not considering the spiritual ramifications of choosing songs that just "move us" instead of serving our churches well, we serve ourselves as artists and feed our artistic desire for "self expression".

We need to choose worship songs that serve our church. Songs that are faithful to scripture, that challenge our congregations to think and that are relevant to our community and culture. Our job is not to repelicate Matt Maher's rock and worship road show or the most recent Hillsong concert. They are fantastic ministries that serve people and help them to see Jesus in the context of a rock concert. Just because they play their songs in their church doesn't necessarily mean that you should play them at yours. Worship leaders that play a particular church's or worship artist's music week in and week out for corporate worship and who draw from their iTunes or Spotify playlists can tend to chose songs as a fan and not as a pastor. They can tend to chose music without faithfully examining the lyrical and theological content of the songs and are not serving their churches nearly as well as they could be. Just because your church is lifting their hands and seems to be visibly responding, does not necessarily mean that your are serving them well in corporate worship gatherings with the right songs.

Your job and my job as we serve in our local churches as worship leaders and musicians is to help people see the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ in our gatherings, not to satisfy some unfulfilled dream of being rockstars. If that's what you want, go play shows, sell your music and get a record deal(nothing at all wrong with any of that!) but don't bring those ambitions to your local church. Let's help people see Jesus tomorrow, not ourselves.