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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!

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“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


How EDM is Changing the Form of Song Structure in Pop Music...and Maybe Congregational Music

The New EDM "Chorus"

Anyone who has been listening to pop music especially the last five years can note the spilling of electronic dance music (EDM) into the mainstream. More and more collaboration is occuring between major EDM artist/DJs/producers (think David Guetta, Avicii, Skrillex [I'll lump him broadly in]). Songs like Avicii's "Wake Me Up" and Guetta/Usher's "Without You" are the kinds of things I'm talking about.

One notices, though, a clash of forms as the two genres of vocals-driven pop and instrumental EDM collide. The chorus becomes a battleground where the sensibilities collide, and the more ground EDM takes, the more we're noticing that the climactic "chorus sections" of songs are instrumental, preceded by various EDM mutations of builds and drops.  Current radio hit "Blame" by Calvin Harris (feat. John Newman) is a great example. The "Blame it on the night" section "works" like a Chorus but in actuality, it functions as a Pre-Chorus. It's really the instrumental section that follows (at about the 0:56 mark) that feels to be the Chorus:

Pop music perhaps began with either a strophic (verse by verse) or Verse-Chorus form (inherited from folk and blues). Then Bridges were introduced. Then Pre-Choruses. Then alternate endings. Over time, pop strucutres have complexified. Most people say, though, that the reigning pop form is still, roughly, Verse1-Chorus-Verse2-Chorus-Bridge-Chorus-Chorus. Many, many songs are structured this way. It is the "sonata form" of modern music that most composers/producers in the genre are striving for and aiming toward.

But now, with EDM, more and more "choruses" (perhaps it's debatable that we can call them that) are not sung verbally but felt instrumentally.

Complexification in Recent Worship Music History

Moving on to worship/congregational music, we're noticing this phenomenon on the latest "young" worship records, like Hillsong Young & Free's weeks-old, This is Living (EP). Here's the title track:

The drop and ensuing chorus are instrumental, with interspersed "This is living now" phrases. (The second time, there is a "you take me higher" section that contains more words, but the effect is still the same.)

It's too early, in my opinion, to see what this shift will do to both pop and congregational music inside and outside the church. Some may say it's heralding a move further away from a word-based culture and more into a post-literate, perhaps more feeling-based (therefore less concrete) sense of truth, which could have consequences for the never changing Christian message. (It might be a tad ironic that the second track on Young & Free's EP includes the phrase "Your Word rewrites my destiny.")

So why point this out? Contemporary worship historian Lester Ruth has noted that shifts in congregational singing have occurred with the introduction of new song form structures. He observes a turning point in 1994 when, on the top CCLI reports, we witness the first song that contains more than a Verse and a Chorus: "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," complete with Verses, Chorus, and Bridge. (Worship songs certainly did this before, but this is the first instance on a CCLI top-25 report.)

From there, we notice in the charts (based on Dr. Ruth's forthcoming research) more and more songs that have Bridges:

  • "Better is One Day" (1995)
  • "Days of Elijah" (1996)
  • "Open the Eyes of My Heart" (1997)
  • "The Heart of Worship" (1997)
  • "Trading My Sorrows" (1998)
  • (It goes on with increased frequency)

Then, the first instance of a Pre-Chorus hits the top CCLI records: Chris Tomlin's "Forever" in 2001. What follows in the charts are an increased number of four-part songs. Quickly we've seen, too, the rise of "regularly scheduled" instrumental sections and surprising new sections (new melodies/progressions altogether) at the end of songs.

Many, in answer to the question, "Why aren't people singing anymore on Sundays?", have said, "Well, if it looks like a rock concert, and smells like a rock concert, of course people will know that they're there to listen and not sing." Perhaps another reason people struggle to sing is because of the "complexification" of worship music song-structure. It simply takes more effort for the congregant to learn, imbibe, and sing forth a modern song with four and sometimes five different sections. As one friend recently quipped over email, "A worship song isn't a worship song unless it's a maze."

EDM's Answer: Hopes and Hazards

Suspending judgment on some of the things I'm poking at above and going back to the task at hand, perhaps on the positive side, EDM could be giving a two-fold gift to worship music right now.

First, perhaps it could force some of the worship songwriting back in a more simple direction, when it comes to texts and melodies. An instrumental chorus means that there's one less of the five potential sections where congregations are having to learn a new melodic and rhythmic pattern. 

Second, because EDM stands at the top of musical genres which evoke dancing, it just might break open a part of our souls (and bodies) that gets locked up when we gather with the people of God. I'm a firm believer in full-throated, whole-bodied, "shalom-y" worship, and I notice EDM tapping into a realm of the human affections of which worship music tends to only tiptoe on the borders (at least in my contexts and traditions).

On the flip side, EDM might carry with it some baggage that we need to receive with wisdom. First, though the genre doesn't have to, it is culturally associated (often) with some not so wonderful human practices that we can all guess based on EDM's connection to "club life." (Though check out this countercultural "morning rave" practice happening in the UK.) Second, again though the genre doesn't have to, it's associated often with text-less triviality. For most EDM songs, you can really take or leave the scant vocalisations that are interspersed here or there. DJs and Producers don't so much use them to send a message through the text as "sample" them as another kind of instrumental sound. This can have a trivializing effect on text in the genre.

Finally, I might say that, in addition to checking out Hillsong Young & Free's engagement with the genre, check out what my amigo Alf Bishai is thoughtfully doing up in New York.

Oh, and check out my "exegesis" of EDM over at LIBERATE, too, for some reflections on the intersection of the music with the gospel.


The Magnificent Three EP is Released!

Several years ago, I was floored by a shocking exposé. No, the article wasn't about a political scandal, a pastoral failure, or even a Kardashian. It was a revealing study about how "under-Trinitized" our worship songs are. Now, to be sure, in one sense, you can't "under-Trinitize" anything. Whether or not we are aware of the all-encompasing, ever-productive, supremely glorious work of the Great Three-in-One, if we are a Christian, we are inescapably "Trinitized." The effectiveness of God's work is not dependent upon our ability to perceive it. Still, Lester Ruth's "How Great is Our God: The Trinity in Contemporary Christian Worship Music" left an indelible mark upon my conscience when it concluded that if all evangelicals had were its most popular worship songs over the last few decades, it may not be clear that the God we worship is Triune (!). It left me burdened as a songwriter and leader to add to the pool a handful of songs saturated with Trinitarian theology. The six songs that comprise The Magnificent Three summarize much of the fruit gathered on the journey toward more "ancient paths" carved by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Please listen. Please enjoy. Please sing them in your local churches. And, if you can, please support the project by purchasing it! 

Track Listing & Links to Lyrics, Charts, & More 

  1. Father, How Great Your Delight in the Son
  2. We Look to You (a co-write with Julie Anne Vargas)
  3. Father, Only in Your Power (a co-write with Bruce Benedict)
  4. Before the Father
  5. Open Our Eyes (a co-write with Bruce Benedict)
  6. God Has Decided

The Magnificent Three FREE Songbook



Do Lyric Statistics Indicate a Shift in Worship?

Bruce Springsteen's Lyrics, in a CloudWord Stats

Yesterday, Duke scholar Lester Ruth (someone whose work every worship leader should pay attention to) tweeted this interesting stat:

Continuing hymn/CCLI song comparison. Most frequent human verbs in hymns? "sin" and "see"; in CCLI songs? "sing" and "praise"

His sources for study involve, first, a look at the 70 most republished evangelical hymns up to 1860…so, material that many evangelical historians would classify as more “classic” hymns (as opposed to the “gospel hymn” era of post 1860 through the mid twentieth century). He is comparing these hymns to the lyrics of the 108 songs which ever appear on a CCLI top-25 list.

It is extremely hard to assess global data in a way that allows one to make accurate generalizations about shifts in the worship climate of evangelicalism, but I do believe that the kind of work Dr. Ruth is doing is getting closer toward something that allows for objectivity.

Let’s flesh this out. First, we’re talking about human verbs in worship songs, so this doesn’t include or observe divine action.  This is from the vantage point of our action. Secondly, we are talking about the top songs in general rather than the entire sung corpus of any local church.  Still, I think these stats give us some hooks to hang our thoughts on when it comes to what might appear to be some shifting theological emphases in evangelical worship.

God's Salvation & Human Triumph

It’s interesting that the most common human action-words of yesteryear were terms that are tied up more centrally in the narrative of the gospel. The gospel is predicated upon a realization and recognition of our sin, and many have said well that our recognition of the immensity of God’s grace is directly proportional to how deep and dark we see our sin. The second word, “see,” may not appear at first glance to be a gospel-narrative word, but it is. Looking and seeing, from the Pentateuch to Revelation, is one of the primary actions associated with salvation and reception of God’s grace. Think of Moses holding up the snake in the wilderness (Num 21) and Jesus’ exposition of that as a prefiguring type of Himself on the cross (John 3). Think of all the biblical language that invites people to “come and see what God has done, his awesome deeds for mankind!” (Psalm 66:5, NIV). Think of “beholding,” a synonym of “seeing,” and a host of scriptural quotations pertaining to salvation and God’s actions should start flooding the mind.

Note also that the most common human action-words of days gone by reveal an emphasis on the weakness and passivity of humanity. When I think of “sin,” I’m not usually tempted to think highly of myself. When I think of “see,” I’m inclined to ask, “What or Whom outside of me am I seeing?” I’ve talked on this blog many times about the prevalence of triumphalism in our worship (“God, this is what I’m doing for You”). The shift from “sin” and “see” to “sing” and “praise” I think at least hints toward the triumphalistic trajectory. “Sin” and “see,” though our action, really anticipate God’s action. “Sing” and “praise” are wonderful, biblical actions, as well (they're imperatives all over the Psalms). But the spotlight is definitely more on us.

Asking Fundamental Questions

Even if you think my analysis is reading in my own biases (which I admit could really be at play here…I’m going on words devoid of their lyrical context, and I’m hyper-sensitive when it comes to triumphalism vis-à-vis the gospel), just take a step back and ask some more fundamental questions.

If I’m reading through the scriptures and seeking to develop a full-orbed biblical theology of corporate, gathered worship, what human action-words should we expect to find? Perhaps it is “sing” and “praise,” especially if you’re just camping out in the Psalms. But once you move beyond the Psalms and listen to the full Scriptural voice about the core themes of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, an entirely different set of human actions comes to the fore, perhaps best summarized in themes of repentance and faith.

Finally, could we also be seeing how music, particularly singing, is starting to move to a more dominant position in the eyes of evangelicals with regards to what worship is? Nowadays, it's not uncommon to hear people say, when referring to music, "wow, the worship time was great." Or, we often hear, "first we'll have a time of worship [i.e. singing], then the sermon." It's pretty fair to say, I think, that NO Christian, prior to the twentieth century, would have understood what those expressions mean. The equation of singing with the totality of worship (not as a part of worship, but what worship centrally is) would not compute for nearly two millennia of Christian doxology.

At any given moment in history, it’s hard for people to lift their heads above the fray and take inventory of the water they’re swimming in. At least we can say, in the face of these stats, that we need to pause and reflect on shifts like these and what they mean. Even if our conclusions are dreadfully off (which mine could be), the exercise keeps our evaluative and critical antennae up, which can’t hurt as we seek to faithfully shepherd and pastor God’s flock in worship.


Four Exciting Projects in the Hopper for Coral Ridge Music

Coral Ridge is a busy place. With my own eyes, I'm witnessing a movement, a kind of new reformation, taking place in our walls, in our community, and around our region. And I'm witnessing a gospel revolution continue in my own heart and family. It's the reason I moved down here in the first place.

Coral Ridge Music is a kind of subset of the larger vision and mission of both Coral Ridge and Liberate (read my thoughts on why you should come to the conference). Its goal is to provide gospel-saturated music and worship resources for the broader church and to be a part of the culture-making that happens through the arts in South Florida. The first few projects out of the gate were our six-song EP, His Be the Victor's Name and our fabulous summer interns' EP, Faith and Love and Every Grace. Within the next six months, we're looking to roll out four more things--three albums and a concert series.

Beginning in Two Weeks: Coral Ridge Concert Series

Coral Ridge is launching our new and improved concert series in a few weeks. The aim of the series is to be a part of how the arts make and bless culture in South Florida. CRPC has had a rich past of fabulous concerts over the years, and we're continuing that legacy with our own twists. It will host everything from killer local blues-funk acts, to an organ festival, to the Naval Academy Glee Club.  It promises to be an exciting year! If you're a local South Floridian, check out the website and get your tickets. Oh yeah, and we've got Keith & Kristyn Getty coming this Christmas. :)

November 2014: The Magnificent Three EP

Several years ago, I caught the Trinity bug. Upon reading a compelling article by Lester Ruth in this book, I became pretty obsessed with helping encourage a greater overt Trinitarianism in modern worship, which led to my own chapter in this book. I also began writing songs for our congregation about the Trinity. I wrote Trinitarian songs of confession, songs of gathering, Communion songs, and on and on. The Magnificent Three is a collection of what I think are the six best songs. The album is stylistically diverse and musically quite un-cohesive. And I love it. We've got a dance-tronica track, a couple of more typical-sounding pop worship songs, a groovy, bluesy sing songy number, and a Petty-with-a-dash-of-Hendrix song produced by an amazing local talent, all headed your way. If you come to the Doxology & Theology Conference this year, you will get the album for FREE! Here are the full lyrics to the first song, a Trinitarian hymn of gathering (but it won't sound like a hymn):

1. Father, how great Your delight in the Son
Infinite joy ere the worlds were begun
The fullness of Love found in Him, with You one
Father, how great Your delight in the Son

2. Jesus, You reign at the Father’s right hand
In pleasure You rule o’er His sovereignty’s span
You joyfully follow the Father’s commands
Jesus, You reign at the Father’s right hand

And, now called into Your delight
As we strain to gaze at Your light
With the hosts of the heavens all veiling their sight,
We cry,”Holy, holy, holy”...

3. Spirit, You light up the Father and Son
With pleasure You join their affections in One
So pour out their glory as we humbly come
Spirit, You light up the Father and Son

So we join Your myst’ry divine
As we sing Your Love before time
And we lift up our voices midst glory sublime
And cry,”Holy, holy, holy”...

4. O worship the Father, immortal, in light
O worship the Son, at His right hand of might
O worship the Spirit, eternally bright
With saints, angels, elders, and martyrs in white

So we join the great One in Three
In the praise that ever shall be
And in Christ, through the Spirit, our Father we seek.
And cry,”Holy, holy, holy”...

Winter/Spring: Chelsea Chen, Live at Coral Ridge

Back in March, our organist, Chelsea Chen, played a fabulous concert of diverse music. She made the organ at Coral Ridge sound more brilliant and complex, and her repertoire spanned everything from Bach to rhythmic contemporary arrangements, to her fun montage of classic Super Mario Brothers music. We recorded the concert and are working on sweetening up the sound before we press it and give it out for the world to enjoy. 

February 2015: Come and Make Us Free EP

We'll release another six-track album at the Liberate Conference in February. Many of the songs are current Coral Ridge favorites, including the title track, which is a powerful song of confession, and our remake of an old hymn, which we call, "Christ Surrendered All."

As always, our albums will be accompanied with a host of resources--lead sheets, chord charts, and request-able Finale files. But they'll also always be available, song by song, here on my site.


Worship as Dancing on Jesus' Feet

Historian Lester Ruth, a scholar whose work every worship leader should pay attention to, recently spoke to the National Worship Leader Conference this year in Washington, D.C.. He gave the most marvelous talk on what Trinitarian, Christ-mediated worship looks like and what its liberating implications are. In his talk, he gave one of the best illustration of how worship, in the moment, works Trinitarian-ly. Check this out:

Ancient Christians had a great image for describing this relationship of Jesus Christ and God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  They said the relationship between the Three was like a big dance. The technical word was perichoresis.  Like a lot of useful words, it’s a combination of two other words:  peri meaning around and choresis meaning dance.  We know these words: think periscope as something that allows you to look around and choresis as related to choreography.  With respect to the Trinity, think of the three Persons as involved in a circle dance, moving so gracefully, so quickly, and so eternally that they seem as one although they are also three distinct partners.

And we get invited in to this dance. It’s not like one of those movie scenes about a prom where some guy goes in, taps another guy on the shoulder, and takes over dancing with the partner while the original guy heads to the sidelines. No, it’s more like what used to happen to me as a kid with my dad.  When it came time to dance, he would have me climb up on his feet and hold his hands.  And he would start to dance around the room. My job wasn’t to initiate the dance. My job was to stay attached to him, feet firmly on his, hands firmly in his and be attentive to this movements so I could join in with him. And we would dance around the room. When we were dancing, was it his movement or mine? Was it his energy or mine? Was it his liturgy or mine? Yes.

And so by the Holy Spirit we have been joined to Jesus Christ, we have climbed on to his nail-scarred feet and held on to his nail-pierced hands and, joined to him, was have been invited into the eternal circle dance of Father, Son, and Spirit. While we’re dancing with him, is it Jesus’ movement or ours on Sunday morning? Is it his energy or ours on Sunday morning? Is it his liturgy or ours on Sunday morning?  Is it his worship of God the Father or ours on Sunday morning? Yes. Our job is not to initiate but to stay close to him, attentive to his movement, and eager to follow his every sway. And that’s the perspective that leads to liberation.

In one of my favorite posts I've ever written, I've described why this idea that Jesus worships FOR us is so liberating for exhausted worship leaders who till the hard soil of gathered worship each week. We can get so discouraged as we look out on the lifeless faces, disengaged bodies, distracted minds, and wandering hearts. And we can also get discouraged as we become honest about our own lackluster worship. It is a comforting word to know that our weak fumbling is swept up on the beautiful, strong, swift feet of our dancing Savior. O tired worshiper and worship leader, rest assured that our double-left-footed offering is perfected and beautified, each and every time we worship, by a capable Dancer who, by His grace, sweeps us up into all the joy that He eternally shares with the Father and the Spirit.


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.


Headed to the National Worship Leader Conference Next Week!

I'll be in the D.C. area next week for the National Worship Leadership Conference. I'll be leading a song at the open of the worship service on Tuesday night, May 13, and then leading 20 minutes of music around the lunch hour the following day. It's a brief trip, as I fly in Tuesday and leave Wednesday afternoon, but ff any of you are going and/or in the area I'd love to connect, even if it's for a brief moment. Please try to track me down so we can talk!  

I'd encourage you to take seminars and attend the sessions where these folks are speaking/teaching. They're solid:

  • Lester Ruth
  • Greg Scheer
  • Marva Dawn
  • Scotty Smith
  • Reggie Kidd

You will not be disappointed! Email me if you'd like to connect.