Two Diagrams That are Captivating My Imagination Right Now

I'm continuing to chip away at this book of mine. It's amazing to see the ways God is using the very chapters I'm working on to minister to specific and immediate needs in my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters at Coral Ridge. I'm working on a couple of diagrams that visual learners might appreciate. (Click on the diagrams for detail.)

The "Gospel-Shaped" Emotional Journey of a Worship Service

This is a kind of "schematic" of the emotional journey a worship service can take when it is shaped according to the gospel narrative of scripture. Some people call this narrative Creation-Fall-Redemption. Others call it Gathering, Confession, Assurance. I tried for a little alliteration: (1) Glory of God; (2) Gravity of Sin; (3) Grandeur of Grace. In any regard, I think the diagram is a helpful one, but I'm trying to hone the descriptors in yellow to fill out the "emotional palette." 

The Worship Pastor's Varying Roles

This is an idea I'm working on which bring together the chapter headings of Part II of my book. The final chapter in this section is on "The Worship Pastor as Liturgical Architect," and the hope is to bring home all the preceding chapters to this point. I began to see some corollaries of the way some of the Worship Pastor's roles are analogous to the three offices of Christ--prophet, priest, and king. So this serves as a kind of visual guide into Part II of my book. I want to stare at it a while to see what I think about it.

I'd be curious if either of these diagrams elicit thoughts, ideas, or comments. 


How Worship is the Most Important Form of Pastoral Care

I've been working on my book, The Worship Pastor (read about it here), and I came across this fabulous quote. Keep in mind that this is a Roman Catholic writer making these observations:

For centuries, the liturgy, actively celebrated, has been the most important form of pastoral care. This was especially true of those centuries in which the liturgy was being created. Unfavourable conditions brought it about that in the late Middle Ages, in spite of the liturgy being celebrated and developed in numerous churches with great fervour and magnificence by collegiate clergy and monastic communities, a veil became drawn between the liturgy and the people, a veil through which the faithful could only dimly see what was happening at the altar. Even in all this we can still see how pastoral concern led to the development and adaptation of the liturgy.*

I can't amen this enough. I've seen, time and again, that thoughtful, passionate, and intentional worship leadership yields pastoral care for the people of God. People can tell when you're caring for them. People can feel that you love them. And people can sense when a worship service creates a context of care.

We often think of pastoral care as an individualized enterprise outside worship: counseling sessions, hospital calls, in-home visits, praying for individuals’ needs, and presiding over funerals. These are all vital, indispensible care practices of any pastor. But the Church’s history offers a different paradigm for the center, the starting place, of all pastoral care. It tells a story of pastors who see the core of their ministry to sick, hurting, wounded sheep happening in the context of leading worship. Worship is the ground zero of pastoral care. It is the place where all pastoral care rightly begins, and without it, all other forms of pastoral care lose their meaning and power.

The people who darken our doors each Sunday come bruised and battered. They are exhausted by life's demands and their failure to meet them. They are beaten up by their sin and the effects of others' sin on them. They come in desperately needing a word of relief. Our worship services need to be so much more than motivational talks and pump-you-up sessions. We need so much more than good advice and a few inspiring songs. Maybe even more to the point, our worship services need to feel less like therapy and more like a heart transplant (Ezek 36:26). Only telling the story of sin and grace can do that. 

If this is true, then one of the best ways, week in and week out, that we can care for the people of God is to give them a worship service that walks them through the story of the Gospel, giving moments to highlight the glory of God (Call & Praise), the gravity of sin (Confession), and the grandeur of grace (Absolution & Assurance). In short, the Gospel is balm for the weak and weary, and worship is where God chooses to most liberally pour out that Word in song, sermon, and sacrament.

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). 

*J. A. Jungmann, Pastoral Liturgy (New York: Herder & Herder, 1962), 380.

Exciting New Projects for Coral Ridge Music

I want to share two things that we're doing with Coral Ridge Music that really light my fire. They are extensions and expressions of the way that we're trying to think pastorally about the way we write and produce music for our local church...with the hope that it will help some other churches out there, too.

A Kids' Worship EP

One of the things we felt burdened to do was to translate for kids some of the ways we're experiencing the Law and the Gospel in worship at Coral Ridge. We also want to be able to bless the young families that are a part of our community by giving them something to bump in their minivans and at home. So, we've tasked our summer interns (Scott Bajgrowicz, Dasia Canales, Caleb Koornneef, & DJ Vining) with recording a kids' EP of six songs. Some of them are simplified rewrites of previously recorded songs, like, "His Be the Victor's Name," and "Wake Up Sleeper." Others are fresh takes on some children's classics: "Jesus Loves Me" has some added verses that flesh out grace for our kids; "Father Abraham" (with a modified tune) weds some sweet covenant theology and Christological themes into a classic. Yet other songs are attempting to liturgically train our kids to experience the gospel narrative in worship, so we've written a confession song called, "I'm Sorry, God," that walks through in a simple way the "thought, word, and deed" of sin in our lives.  This is a blitz project and will be ready for our families and the broader public in the fall. Keep on the lookout for a Kickstarter campaign by our Terns! 

A "Feedback Panel" for Some New Worship Tunes

Julie Anne Vargas and I have been in the woodshed, working on new songs. I can honestly say that I've never worked so hard and put so much effort into crafting these texts and melodies. Many of these songs have been wrestled into submission. We're adding a layer, though, to the songwriting process. Tonight, we're bringing together a small swath of our congregation, along with some friends and local area worship leaders for a "Worship Night Song Panel," where we'll present these songs, talk about them, solicit feedback, and sing them together. Before we fully commit to these songs, we want to create a safe space for them to "hit" our congregation in order to see what sticks. We're anticipating that this night will give us some important insight on the traction that these songs will or will not have in our community. We'll go through six songs in a conversational, coffee house-style format and hopefully God will bless us with a rich sense of His presence among us. We want to worship our way through this experience.

These songs will travel through this process and then hopefully make it on to an EP or LP due out in February 2016.

If you all have done similar things in your churches, I'd be very curious how the process went for you...what it looked like, how successful it was, some do's and don't's you learned. Please comment!


How Singing Together Rehearses Mutual Submission

As I'm writing my book, I'm enjoying the disciplined privilege of dialoguing with old friends and mentors who sit on my shelves, reminding me of their ministry to my life. I was cracking open one relatively recent "old friend," Resonant Witness: Conversations Between Music and Theology, edited by Jeremy Begbie and Steven Guthrie. I opened up Steven Guthrie's amazing chapter, "The Wisdom of Song," to discover fierce underlining. Many of the ideas I had interacted with in those pages were forgotten, and rediscovering them was like finding an old tool that I thoguht I'd lost. I'd like to share an insight from that chapter which should inspire worship leaders struggling to figure out just how their work actually pastors people. It will encourage you.

Ephesians 5:18-21 is one of those hallmark passages that we often forget when we talk about worship and being "Spirit-filled." Often times, we can get pretty narrow in what we think "Spirit-filled" worship looks like. (I address some of that in detail here.) Ephesians 5 helps us broaden that out. In teaching Greek, some professors will point out that this passage is one of those places where English translations have done a poor job in connecting the ideas of the Greek. In the original language, we have an imperative (a command), followed by a string of participles ("-ing" words) which help flesh out what that command looks like. In Greek, the command is "be filled with the Spirit," and the "how" gets described in the participles, "speaking...singing and making thanks...submitting." We can observe several things here.

First, as we probably have all experienced, speaking/singing/making music are all ways we embody being filled with the Spirit. Second (probably more surprising), submitting to one another is another one of those ways. And third, look at how closely singing and submitting are linked in this passage. Now let's sprinkle a little musical reflection on top of this and hear what Steve Guthrie has to say:

What kind of mutual submission happens in song? For one thing, singing words together involves synchronicity--staying in time with one another. The singers submit themselves to a common tempo, a common musical structure and rhythm. In addition to this, those who sing surrender to the constraints of a particular melody and harmony, a common key and tonal hierarchy. As they submit in this way they discover limits that are not oppressive; limits that do not frustrate but facilitate the participants' intention to sing. If this mutual submission entails the loss of one sort of freedom (the freedom to sing whatever notes one wants, in whatever way one chooses), it also enables freedom of another sort--the freedom to sing this tune; the freedom to be part of a chorus. ...

Even in the midst of our bickering, we all would have affirmed the wisdom of Paul's command: "submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ." With each week's opening hymns, however, we're forced to rehearse this mutual submission, and as we did, we learned how such submission is enacted in song.*

Did that blow your mind like it did mine? In singing, we "rehearse" our Spirit-filled mutual submission. That means that we, as worship leaders, are pastoring this Spirit-filled virtue into our flock when we lead them in song. Perhaps even without us knowing it, we are contributing to the positive shaping of the Body of Christ into the image of Christ by the power of the Spirit. Worship leaders, you are pastors.

*Steven R. Guthrie, "The Wisdom of Song," in Resonant Witness; Conversations Between Music and Theology, ed. Jeremy S. Begbie and Steven R. Guthrie (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 400-401, 407.

So...I'm writing a book

I'm very excited to announce to my readers that I've got a book coming down the pipeline. I'm joining forces with a great team of folks over at Zondervan to deliver a project that has been on my heart for quite a while.

The Back Story

For the last five years, I've been thinking long and hard about my own journey as a worship leader, and I've been thinking a lot of those thoughts out loud on this blog. I've been throwing ideas onto the wall, and in many ways, you all--my readers--have been a major help in figuring out what is truly sticking.

My own vocational journey started out as a confused, schizophrenic biography. Since my teenage years, I had sensed a strong call to pastoral ministry, and I had always thought that this call would take the shape of everything else I'd seen: preaching, teaching, visitation, leadership, weddings, funerals, etc. But, God kept on providentially shoving me down the "worship leader" road, and I kept asking Him, "So, when am I going to be able to become a pastor?" Several years ago the realization came, "I AM one, right where I am, doing just what I'm doing."

And then I started having conversations with other worship leaders who were sniffing out the same ideas in their own callings. But there was very little out there (either educationally or resource-wise) that helped us flesh out what it means for worship leaders to take seriously a pastoral call in their vocation. So we reflected together and informally learned from one another. A few years ago, I started putting those reflections down on paper and keeping a kind of "hopper" for these ideas to get dumped into. The hopper grew and grew, and I not long ago sat down to organize those tossed-in thoughts. I realized I had a pretty comprehensive outline. And, more importantly, I began to realize that God was giving me something to say that just might be helpful for some other brothers and sisters.

What the Book is About

And now I'm here. Somewhere in mid-to-late 2016, we should, Lord-willing, see a book called, The Worship Pastor hit the scene. The hope for The Worship Pastor is that it helps worship leaders flesh out just how their jobs are already a pastoral ministry and equip them to do it better. It's something that I hope both colleges/seminaries can use as an introductory resource and worship leaders can easily pick up and find a use for (that's going to be a tension I will be working hard to straddle...substantive enough for institutions, accessible enough for people without much formal training). 

Each chapter will be a vignette, a kind of metaphor for the worship leader's pastoral life. I'll tackle subjects such as the Worship Pastor as...

  • Emotional Shepherd
  • Prophetic Guardian
  • Theological Dietician
  • Caregiver
  • Mortician (yup, that's right...if my book had a soundtrack, this would be where the Scandanavian Death Metal gets played...face-melt)

I'll share a lot of stories about the good, the bad, and the ugly in my own road of worship leading, and hopefully the book will provide a lot of hope for worship leaders on all points of the journey. My desire is that The Worship Pastor might set a lot of young worship leaders on the right path. At the same time, I hope that the book might provide a renewed vision for worship leaders who have been in the trenches for quite a while and need some fresh inspiration.

Why Am I Telling You This?

So...given that the book is quite a long ways away from being in print, why in the world am I telling you about it now? First, I'm just excited. Second, I invite you to pray with and for me. You all have been such a big encouragement to me, and you're actually probably the main reason I'm writing this thing. Third, I'm going to be pouring a lot of my energies into writing, which means less time for blogging, and I wanted you to know why. The posts will continue to come, but they probably won't be as frequent.

I'm already learning how different a book project is from blogging. Each writing medium has its own advantages and disadvantages when it comes to the exchange of ideas. Writing a book with a team of editors requires a lot more discipline and provides a lot more accountability. For those reasons, I think this will be some of my best writing and integrative thinking to date. I can't wait to see what's on the other side of all this. All in all, God has really paved the way, so I'm stepping into this new facet of my call. 

I Want Your Thoughts...RIGHT NOW

The fourth reason I'm telling you this is that your feedback has been invaluable to me over the years. It's sharpened my thinking, and many times it's redirected my heart to new and better places. So...I want your feedback.  As I write on the topic of pastoring through worship leading,

  • What topics do you hope are addressed?
  • What have YOU learned that you wish someone had told you earlier?
  • Where, in your estimation, are the pastoral blind spots for worship leaders?
  • What are things I have said in the past which have been helpful or real "aha" moments for you?
  • What are things I have said in the past which need sharpening, correction, or clarification?

And...finally...some of these topics are sensitive or too long for blog comments. So...shoot me an email, too, at I welcome your help in making this book as helpful as possible for Jesus' Church.


In Search of the Emotionally Persuasive Liturgy

Over at Reformed Worship, I wouldn't want you to miss an important post of mine that posits some very current questions I am asking. Once again, my investigation of Thomas Cranmer has proven a helpful launchpad into current worship issues and reflections. 

The questions I'm seeking Cranmer's help in answering actually have a lot to do with yesterday's post on my journey in listening better to the charismatic tradition. Maybe to encourage you to go check out the post, here are the four provocative questions I'm asking at the end:

  • What is it about charismatic worship that so captures the heart of the average person?
  • What is it about the ‘musical rhetoric’ of our brothers and sisters from these traditions that ‘works’ so well in persuading people?
  • What anthropological understandings and assumptions stand behind the emotional intuitions of charismatic worship leaders and songwriters?
  • Could it be that Pentecostal and charismatic (especially musical) techniques of persuasionare worth exploring and understanding, just as rhetorical techniques were mastered and marshaled by Cranmer in his day and age?

As weird as it sounds, something tells me that Cranmer, if he could understood our context today, would have supported the "emotional work" of the charismatic tradition and would have sought to ask similar questions along the way of trying to lead a new Reformation in worship. Please go read the post. I welcome feedback and insights. 


Listening to the Charismatic Tradition

If you're a worship leader engaging in any way with the mainstream of the music of modern worship today, you are interacting with and encountering charismatic Christianity in some way, shape, or form. Lately, God has led me into a season of earnest listening to the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions (many understandably lump the two together, but the more I hear from them, the more I understand their distinctives). God has placed some pretty amazing friends and worship leaders in my life who are committed, Jesus-loving, Spirit-seeking charismatic brothers and sisters. We hang out, do lunch, talk shop, swap stories, and encourage one another.

The Reformed, liturgical, and evangelical tribes I tend to most regularly hover in are often critical and suspicious of Pentecostal and charismatic worship thought and practice. And though I share some of these concerns, I find that folks in my traditions can be quite knee-jerk, broad brushed, and under-informed. Our criticisms (as is often the case in any polemic) are caricatures based on either (a) second- or third-hand information, or (b) the worst representations of the traditions.

In the spirit of one of my new heroes, Chuck Fromm, head of Worship Leader Media, I've been trying to listen and converse more widely than my tradition often goes. Some might call it selling out. I just call it loving the Church. And in my desire to listen well, I've tried to hear from the different types of voices: theologians, authors, speakers, musicians, worship leaders, worshipers. The net effect has been hugely edifying. So, with just a little commentary, I'm happy to disclose to you some of the things I'm listening to, reading, and learning.

(I will encourage you, though, with one thing. As worship leaders and pastors, we should cast our social and theological nets wider than our immediate circles. Read widely, and, even better, socialize widely. Nothing beats actually conversing and building relationships with people outside your folds. From personal experience, I can testify that it's just incredibly healthy. It also allows you to go back to your circles and better sniff out the Pharisaism, especially the self-righteousness in your own heart. Lord, have mercy.)

Worship leaders and thinker-practitioners:

Glenn Packiam, Pastor of New Life Downtown (Colorado Springs, CO), is one of my favorite charismatic dudes out there because he is exploring how the heart of charismatic worship (particularly in terms of the charismatic emphasis on "encounter" [see Pete Ward below]) intersects with the liturgical tradition. He just wrote a paper on worship and emotions that I can't wait to tell everyone about whenever he makes it public. Great, integrative insights. Everyone should check out his blog. He most recently wrote an excellent booklet called Re-Forming Worship: A Futurology of Congregational Music for the Non-Denominational Church.

Andrew Ehrenzeller, a South Floridian Jesus Culture artist, has become a valuable conversation partner. He introduced me to Ray Hughes (see below), and I find in him a zeal and earnestness that makes me want to be a better worship leader. He and I have had some very meaningful conversations about spiritually interpreting the indigenous musical styles of cities and regions to hear how God is already at work in them to sow the seeds of the gospel. Deep stuff. Check out his beautiful, creative, Peter Gabriel-ish album, Children of Promise.

Justin Jarvis, another South Floridian connected with Jesus Culture is a guy I respect and admire. I've had a few great, inspiring conversations with him, and I've interacted with his latest album, Atmospheres, HERE.


This was brand new for me and highly insightful. Pentecostal teacher Ray Hughes, whose ministry has evidently had not a small impact on many influential new charismatic movements (like Bethel and Jesus Culture), makes some fascinating connections between Old Testament worship, spiritual forces, music history, science, and ethnomusicology. For many, Hughes seems like he's really "out there" in moments, and some will find him hard to follow. His speaking style is organized but feels a bit stream-of-consciousness. I recommend his Minstrel Series at least to open up your senses a bit. 

One recurring itch for me, though, is how little the Gospel of Jesus is talked about. To me it gives credence to one outsider's observation that some corners of the charismatic tradition can feel like they're "pole-vaulting over Calvary to get to Pentecost."*


The Spirit in Worship - Worship in the Spirit, ed. Teresa Berger, Bryan D. Spinks

I particularly found the chapter, "The Spirit in Contemporary Charismatic Worship," a helpful history of and view into the later charismatic movements in the UK.

Simon Chan's chapter was a great featuring of how Nicene Christianity has always seen a close connection between pneumatology and ecclesiology...the relationship of Spirit to Church. I felt like there was some caricaturing of Western Christianity, though.


Pete Ward, Selling Worship

I had passed by this book many times in years past, because, based solely on the title, it looked like just another critique of worship's consumerist tendencies. Boy was I wrong. Glenn Packiam turned me onto this gem of historical analysis. I've spent the most time digesting one of the final chapters on "encounter," which gave me important insights into one of the hallmark distinctives of charismatic worship music.


Don Williams, "Charismatic Worship," in Exploring the Worship Spectrum, ed. Paul Basden

This Presbyterian-turned-Vineyard pastor helpfully and generously articulates the charismatic perspective. I think his vantage point as a former Presbyterian was helpful for folks like me reading his insights. He knew that there would be some concerns, and he addressed them.



*Paul Zahl, "A Liturgical Worship Response," in Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views, ed. Paul Basden, 154.

The National Worship Leader Conference in May

For all of you easterners, in less than a month, I'll be contributing a small part to the National Worship Leader Conference (May 18-21) in Virginia, just outside of DC. I'm probably more excited than ever about the lineup of folks. For instance, Tuesday morning, there will be a really nice interplay between David Crowder and Bill & Gloria Gaither. And later on I'll be interviewing the Gaithers on their years of wisdom about the worship landscape and songwriting. When I did this interview last year in Kansas, I was downright shocked at how thoughtful and incisive their observations were.

Dr. Reggie Kidd of Reformed Seminary will be there on Wednesday morning. If you all haven't picked up his book, With One Voice, you need to. It's drenched with Jesus-centered reflections you don't normally here in worship conversations.

Then...THEN...I'm probably most excited about the lineup on Wednesday night. Two of my favorite worship artists right now--Daniel Bashta and The Brilliance--will be leading us in singing. I honestly can't wait. Dan's newest album, For Every Curse, is dynamite. And I've already told you about The Brilliance's Brother.

In addition to all this, I'll be helping out with a Songwriting workshop as we listen to people's submissions and discuss them, hopefully to lead us all to better practices in writing songs for our local church.

Go straight here if you'd like to jump into registration. But certainly check out the site for the full lineup and more information on the conference. If you do come, make sure to hit me up. Contact me. I'd love to hang and talk shop. :)

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