Search this site
My Book

Entries in john witvliet (10)


What Some People Are Saying About The Worship Pastor

I've been privileged to pass some advance drafts of my book, The Worship Pastor, to some thinkers, writers, scholars, and poets across all kinds of lines. I've been very grateful for the responses, feedback, and endorsements. Below is what they've said! Also, the book's site is officially up. Pre-orders really help, so please spread the word. And, there's some incentive. I've put together a study guide with discussion questions and "for further reading" recommendations. Some people will really want to dive more deeply into the topics I open up. Those helps are available for FREE for folks who pre-order!

*  *  *  *  *  *

“The modern role of the worship leader . . . has emerged in recent years as a mission-critical position on church staffs,” writes Zac Hicks. But how do we characterize that role? With years of contemporary worship-leading experience, theological acumen, love of the church, and profound respect for the calling of leading God’s people in declaring his glory, Hicks identifies the role as pastor. Hicks explores perspectives that will inspire worship leaders and ennoble the worship practices and priorities of God’s people.”

— DR. BRYAN CHAPELL, pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church; author, Christ-centered Worship


“Zac Hicks educates and challenges us to carefully consider how we “do” our function as congregational leaders of prayer, all the while christening us with an elevated title that suits the role: the worship pastor.”

— CHUCK FROMM, founder, Worship Leader Magazine


“Not only is this book well-written, it is deeply wise and consistently scriptural. I love this book. I wish that every worship pastor (and every pastor) would read it. Read it. You will be pleasantly surprised.”

— ELYSE M. FITZPATRICK, author; Home: How Heaven and the New Earth Satisfy Our Deepest Longings


“It’s been fifty years since the first forms of contemporary worship appeared. It’s been thirty years since the position of worship leader developed. It’s been twenty years since mainline churches adopted contemporary styles. And so it’s time for a mature, multifaceted guide for those who lead God’s people in worship. Zac Hicks’ The Worship Pastor fills that need wonderfully.”

— LESTER RUTH, research professor of Christian worship, Duke Divinity School


"As worship pastor becomes a standard job title in churches across the globe, we are in dire need of a guide for this unique vocation. Zac Hicks has given us a masterpiece that is equal parts manual and manifesto. This book is pastoral theology at its very best."

—GLENN PACKIAM, pastor, New Life Downtown; author, Discover the Mystery of Faith


"This book is a welcome introduction to the multidimensional nature of worship leadership. Written for practitioners by a practitioner, Hicks brings a convincing voice to the slow-growing but much-needed plea for worship leaders to take up the pastoral duties that are so vital for successful ministry. I highly recommend it for persons in any stage of worship ministry."

—CONSTANCE M. CHERRY, professor of worship and pastoral ministry, Indiana Wesleyan University


“In The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks holds up the diamond of worship leading and
wonderfully encourages us in its many faceted roles, reflecting the glory of the gospel with every view. This book is a must-read for pastors, worship pastors, and even worship team members.”

— STEVE AND VIKKI COOK, songwriters, teachers, worship leader/team member


“If I could choose one worship pastor to serve with for the rest of my life, it would be Zac Hicks. Marinate in his book, Worship Pastor, and you’ll understand why my words aren’t pastoral hyperbole. Get it; soak in it; share it with many.”

— DR. SCOTTY WARD SMITH, teacher-in- residence, West End Community Church


“Long has the worship community needed a guidebook for understanding that the role of the worship leader encompasses more than great music. I highly recommend The Worship Pastor to anyone seeking to follow God’s call to lead worship.”

— DR. VERNON M. WHALEY, dean, School of Music, Liberty University


“Zac Hicks has laid down some important principles for worship leaders to function beyond merely choosing songs—as pastors. Worship leaders who adapt Zac’s principles and disciplines will find that their call to ministry will be widely enhanced to the glory of God.”

— DR. EDWIN M. WILLMINGTON, director, Fred Bock Institute of Music, Fuller Theological Seminary


"Zac has thoughtfully and thoroughly addressed the many creative avenues in which worship can be pastored. And that’s so important, because techie artists like me need a better, deeper theological understanding of the influence we have over the worship space. And how we may actually be worship pastors even though it’s not in our job title."

—STEPHEN PROCTOR, visual liturgist and projection artist,


“This is book is an invitation to reenvision the identity of all of us who lead God’s people in worship. My prayer is that it will encourage and inspire both beginning and lifelong leaders of God’s people, and lead to worship of greater theological depth and Christian joy.”

— JOHN D. WITVLIET, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College and Theological Seminary


“Speaking from years of personal experience, Zac Hicks offers this winsome invitation to worship leaders to think of themselves as ministers as well as musicians. Essential reading.”

— MAGGI DAWN, associate professor of theology and literature, Yale Divinity School


My Time at the Pop Rock Worship Consultation at Calvin (with pictures)

Many have asked for me to share my experiences at Calvin College this week. I was graciously invited by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) to join a well-rounded group of songwriters, artists, music industry leaders, educational leaders, scholars, and worship leaders. Please read one of the organizer's (David Taylor) wonderful reflections and comments here.

Who Was There?

Matt, Charlie (Graham & Latifah in the background)(some of these lines are blurry, but I'll do my best to categorize)

Songwriters/Artists: David Crowder (Passion), Miranda Dodson (City Life Church), David Gungor (Gungor / The Brilliance), Charlie Hall (Passion), Graham Kendrick, Latifah Phillips (Page CXVI, The Autumn Film), Robbie Seay, Tommy Walker

Worship Leaders: David M. Bailey & Erin Rose (Making a Melody), Matt Boswell (Providence/Doxology & Theology), Troy Hatfield (Mars Hill, MI), Greg Scheer (Church of the Servant/Calvin)

Scholars: Jeremy Begbie (Duke), Monique Ingalls (Cambridge, Baylor), Todd Johnson (Fuller), Wen Reagan (Duke), Lester Ruth (Duke), W. David O. Taylor (Fuller), John Witvliet (Calvin)

Industry Leaders: John Chisum (formerly of Integrity), Andy Piercy

Educational Leaders / Publishers: Joyce Borger (Calvin), David Fuentes (Calvin), Steve Guthrie (Belmont), Robin Parry (Wipf & Stock), Ed Willmington (Fuller) 

Why Were We There? 

Robbie, Me, Wen, Miranda, Lester, AndyWe came to have an open and honest dialogue about “pop/rock worship” (an inherently slippery title, but the best that probably could be found). The desire among the organizers at CICW was to create a space for fruitful, intentional, even directional conversation that took the topic seriously in a non-dismissive way. The goals were to process this heavily influential medium in the Western Church’s worship (and now worldwide) in a way that affirmed its merits and sought to encourage the Church’s growth and health in light of it.

What Was the Vibe?

Based on the above roster of sensibilities and vantage points, you might expect it to have been awkward or even cantankerous. It wasn’t. It was actually quite the opposite. I can describe the sprit of the room as electric, affirming, encouraging, self-aware, intelligent, irenic, and overall inspiring. There was an overall sense of a collective rallying around a love for Christ and His Bride. There was mutual respect and admiration for each other’s areas of expertise and spheres of influence.  There was also a nice amount of cutting up and laughing. There were some great moments of just plain fun. I give major kudos to CICW, John Witvliet, David Taylor, and the rest of the organizing crew for setting the tone and doing the hard work of finding the “right” people to have a catalyzing discussion like this.

What Did the Time Look Like?

David T., David G., Erin, Todd, John W.We sat down for four sessions of well-organized, guided discussion: Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning, Tuesday afternoon/evening, and Wednesday morning. Each session was book-ended by devotional reflections through the book of Philippians (we ended up hearing all of Philippians read to us over the three days), along with reflections on paintings shown in this wonderful book. We sat at regularly mixed-up round tables all in one room, and the organizers were intentional that at each table-gathering you had a nice cross-section of the above disciplines/persuasions/vocations represented. We would often have large group discussions with everyone, combined with moments of table, think-tank, seedbed discussions.  On Tuesday evening we took a field trip and spent a night on the town.

What Did We Recognize Was Missing? 

Lester Ruth & stats on songsNot for want of trying (some who would have filled this out couldn’t come), we all acknowledged that we needed more races represented and that our gender was male-heavy. We could have used more representation from the mainstream Christian music industry, as well.  It was hard, also, in this environment, to “hear” the voice of the small church, because most of us were not serving in or associated with smaller (and rural) churches.  With regards to the first point, it was acknowledged that a gaping hole in discussions of “pop rock worship” is the African American gospel tradition, which was one of the main streams to have birthed rock music and which continued to influence and effect change in rock through the decades.

What Did We Discuss?

On Monday night, we traced important figures, institutions, and “moments” in the history of “pop rock worship” (but really, it was a kind of highlighted history of contemporary worship).  The discussion was fascinating, especially since we had some of the very figures and institutions represented in the room, at that moment. Here was our snapshot:

On Tuesday, both Lester Ruth and Jeremy Begbie stirred the pot and primed the pump by discussing the content of the top CCLI songs (Ruth), and how the gospel’s “disturbs” our complacency about music and content (Begbie). The ensuing discussions provoked these kinds of questions:

  • David B., David C. Graham, Andy, David T.What does faithful discipleship look like in worship planning in our environments…for songwriters, worship leaders, industry leaders, resource providers, and educational institutions?
  • How does music communicate apart from text? What does it “say” in certain genre media?
  • How can we utilize the strengths of various streams even within the pop rock genre(s) to expand the horizons of Christian worship?
  • Where are the content-gaps in pop-rock worship, and how can those gaps be creatively filled by songwriters, worship leaders, industry leaders, resource providers, and educational institutions?
  • How can we affirm and what is good about the history of pop rock worship? What aspects of the “industry” are praiseworthy?
  • How can we look at the “industry” less as a de-personalized mechanism and more as filled with many people who love Christ and desire to serve His Church?
  • What common practices can we commend among ourselves in response to the answers borne out of the above questions? 

These questions are juicy, aren’t they? The discussions were deep, and my admiration for every single person in that room went up.

What’s Next?

We didn’t just meet to throw out ideas. We met to catalyze some new thinking, new directions, and new actions. We were all tasked with developing certain goals for our practice as our feet hit the ground in our local contexts. Here are some of my thoughts for my local ministry and broader influence: (1) Continue praying and strategizing about how to stretch the diversity of our expression of music in worship at Coral Ridge for the sake of the diversity of our community; (2) Continue to write songs of confession and maybe begin to interject lament language more intentionally into our worship times; (3) Move ahead with releasing our EP of Trinitarian songs, The Magnificent Three, in the late Fall; (4) Do more collaborative songwriting.


Great Worship Conference Headed Your Way!

Bifrost Arts Conference
"The Cry of the Poor"
Philadelphia, PA
April 22-24 

Today is the last day for discount registration for the second Bifrost Arts Conference.  The first conference happened two years ago, and you can read (and watch a video) of my experience here.

From day one, I have appreciated the (sadly) unique vision for worship that is cast by Bifrost Arts and their leader, Isaac Wardell.  This year's theme is "The Cry of the Poor," and here's their description:

This year’s Bifrost conference will explore the intersection of worship, community, and mercy. Speakers will include Makoto Fujimura (Director of International Arts Movement), John Witvliet (Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship), Greg Thompson (fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture), and Frère Emmanuel (brother from the worshipping community of Taize), as well as other panels and workshops.

We are also excited to have music from Sandra McCrackenPhiladelphia Choral Arts, the Bifrost Arts Ensemble, and The Welcome Wagon. We hope you can join us!

"Worship and justice" is a heavily explored theme in Scripture (especially the prophets), and under-appreciated in modern Western culture.  We need conferences like this.  The other value of a gathering like this one is that they elevate the "worship" discussion above merely music and technology (often the dominant themes of mainstream worship conferences) to issues of art, beauty, aesthetics, liturgy, and social action and concern.

Follow Bifrost Arts:


Get Bifrost's Music:

For more thoughts and ideas, check out Cardiphonia's post about it.



The Missing Piece in Debates about Physical Expression in Worship

Lunette with Orante. From early Christian fresco, second half of the third century. Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, Italy. Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY. Yesterday in worship, I encouraged our congregation to respond to the preaching of the Word of God by engaging in a physical act on the final verse of our closing hymn, “Jesus, with Thy Church Abide.”  I reminded them that early Christian art (shown here) depicts at least some Christian worshipers praying in nearly the opposite physical manner that we do—eyes open, body standing, heads lifted, and hands raised.  (I found the above depiction on the cover of the outstanding work, Walking Where Jesus Walked: Worship in Fourth Century Jerusalem, by Lester Ruth, Carrie Steenwyk, and John Witvliet.) So, on the final verse, we all raised our hands together, 300-strong, and sang:

May she holy triumphs win
Overflow the hosts of sin
Gather all the nations in
We beseech Thee, hear us

Click to read more ...


Was Early Church Worship Reserved and Stoic?

Lunette with Orante. From early Christian fresco, second half of the third century. Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, Italy. Photo credit: Scala/Art Resource, NY.Traditionalist critics of modern worship often point to the hyper-emotionalism associated with the movement as evidence of its imbalance toward expressiveness over and against theological depth, biblical accuracy, and historical connectivity.  Sometimes, these critics will point to "how the church has historically worshipped" to advocate for more reserved, "reverential" forms of worship expression.  They will admonish the church that, unless people reserved and somber in worship, they will be downplaying the fact that in worship we do indeed encounter a holy God who should inspire fear, silence, and meekness.  

Many, many folks have pointed out that the Psalms give us a bigger picture.  They don't necessarily subtract from the above, but add to it.  The Psalms give us a picture of reverence and jubilation, being reserved and being expressive, both physically and emotionally.  

So what about those arguments about "historic Christian worship?"  Perhaps when we look to post-Reformational Anglican, Lutheran, or Presbyterian worship we see a more stoic model of corporate worship expression.  But if we go back earlier...much earlier...we see a different picture which may surprise us.  If, in our minds, we picture the early church at worship in homes and church buildings engaging in liturgy in formal, reverential postures with solemn faces and expression-less bodies, our picture is wrong.

The above picture is taken from an early Christian fresco, painted in the late third century.  It depicts a worshiper in prayer.  Contrary to our postures of folded hands, closed eyes, and sitting or kneeling, this early Christian was standing, head covered, with eyes open and hands lifted toward heaven.  (It's interesting that modern worship hand-raising, especially when we realize that singing is a form of prayer, is actually a more ancient, historic worship-posture than the still-bodied, stoic-faced, hymnal holding that characterizes some of traditional worship today!)

If this reality of early church worship is as surprising to you as it was to me, perhaps you, too, should check out Walking Where Jesus Walked: Worship in Fourth-Century Jerusalem, by Lester Ruth, Carrie Steenwyk, and John Witvliet.1 Along with brief commentary on the above picture, here's what they had to say as they observed the documents and art produced in and around fourth-century Jerusalem:

[Commenting on the picture:] Although this portrayal dates from the late third century and from a different place than Jerusalem, such portrayals can help one imagine what it would have been like forJerusalem's buildings to have been filled with worshipers. Envision, for example, hundreds with hands upraised, gathered around the tomb of Christ.2

Early Christian nun Egeria, from her diary, wrote this in describing a portion of a worship service in fourth-century Jerusalem, as the people traveled from site to site surrounding the story of Jesus' death:

When everyone arrives at Gethsemane, they have an appropriate prayer,  hymn, and then a reading from the Gospel about the Lord's arrest.  By the time it has been read, everyone is groaning and lamenting and weeping so loud that people even across in the city can probably hear it all.3

Here's the sidebar comment by the authors:

The loudness of the people's reaction to the acount of Jesus' arrest is another reminder of how demonstrative late patristic worship could be. Congregations were not quiet and passive at this time.4

The authors summarize Jerusalem worship in the fourth century in this way:

Jerusalem worshipers were moved emotionally by their worship, mirrored by how they moved outwardly in its rhythms of time and space. Egeria depicted how deeply people's affections could be touched in worship, thereby dispelling any notion we might have that the early church's worship was staid and stuffy because it involved a great deal of ceremony. Egeria drew a picture of worship in which people wept, shouted, called back to the preacher, and applauded with delight.5

And here we see that more formalized and ceremony-oriented worship doesn't necessarily have to be "staid and stuffy."  Our doxological ancestors gave us a different picture.  It seems, then, if we want to talk about getting back to the worship of the early church, we need to be careful about not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  With traditionalists and formalists, we can prize "ceremony," liturgy, and even high levels of structure and content in our worship.  With modern worship, we can appreciate and incorporate the fullness of physical and emotional expressiveness.  It doesn't seem that, from a biblical and historical perspective, either needs to be encouraged to the exclusion of the other.  

So we would do well to celebrate and incorporate the ideals of early Christian worship, even as we find new ways of expressing our ancient Christian doxology.


1 Lester Ruth, Carrie Steenwyk, and John Witvliet, Walking Where Jesus Walked: Worship in Fourth-Century Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).
2 Ibid., 31.
3 Ibid., 54.
Ibid., 28.



What is Biblical Worship?

The Difficulty of “Biblical Worship” Discussions

I’ve been in conversation with some trusted friends over the issue of “biblical worship” and how many people (including us) toss that phrase around, often meaning very different things.  The concern is that people use the Bible to talk about worship without admitting that we approach the Text with different methodologies in place that color what we pull out of it.  When well-meaning Bible thinkers exegete Scripture and come out with defenses for quite different worship practices, we need to pause and ask the meta-questions about how we’re approaching the text, which texts we’re approaching, and why some texts are informative to the topic while others are not. 

Click to read more ...


Worship and the Physical Body: The Earthen Vessels Symposium - Part 2

This is Part 2 of a blog symposium with Matt Anderson on his book Earthen Vessels.


How We Analyze Disembodied Forms of Worship

This section puts Anderson at odds with much of the cutting edge thinking about online church, video feeds of preachers, and disembodied Christian “communities.”  I agree with his analysis (ultimately, that the aforementioned realities are inadequate, even wrong, and betray an inadequate biblical anthropology) and will only add a few things.  Anderson pokes at something very significant at the get-go when he talks about the “altar call” and the dominance of the act of evangelism in shaping evangelical worship.13  We can burrow down deeper, here.  Evangelical worship today has been shaped by the realities of the American frontier. 

Click to read more ...


Worship and the Physical Body: The Earthen Vessels Symposium - Part 1

I have the privilege of contributing to a blog symposium, along with several other authors and bloggers, on Matt Anderson’s terrific book, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith.1  Matt is a fellow Biola-grad, lover of Christ’s Church, and blogaholic over at Mere Orthodoxy and Evangel.  Even as I interact with the book, be sure to check Mere-O in a few days from this post to see Matt’s interaction with me.

The final chapter of the book, “The Body and the Church,” instead of focusing on ecclesiology (the study of the church), in general, zeroes in on doxology (the study of worship) in particular.  To structure the dialogue, let me first attempt to summarize the chapter in a thesis statement, along with his subsequent supporting arguments.  Anderson’s chief point is that the physical body matters to corporate worship.

Click to read more ...