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Entries in national worship leader conference (15)


The Lineup at this Year's National Worship Leader Conferences

So I'm pretty thrilled to see this year's lineup at the NWLC regional conferences happening this year in Virginia (coming up fast!) and Kansas City. For instance, Lester Ruth, who (along with Swee Hong Lim) just published a NECESSARY brief history of contemporary worship will be speaking. Lester is a scholar with a pastor's heart and a churchman's spirit. I trust and believe in this guy. And, though I don't know her personally, I would especially want to hear what Cheryl Wilson-Bridges has to say. Her books look worth a read!

I've come to admire and respect the worship leadership and thoughtfulness behind the songwriting of many of the music leaders that will be there--Paul Baloche, Evan Wickham, and Jesse Reeves.

Perhaps most importantly, though, is the fact that the theme is on "Leading in Prayer," zeroing in on what it means for worship leaders to think of themselves as prayer leaders. I have a few thoughts on that subject, myself, and I'm therefore thrilled to see a conference pick it up as its guiding light.

I don't think you'll be disappointed if you choose to go solo or take your team out to bask in the singing and teaching that these conferences will offer this year. Go register!


What I'll Be Up to at the National Worship Leader Conference

I love the National Worship Leader Conferences. I've been to them in every kind of capacity now. I've been there as a participant (Check out my post on that from several years back). I've been there as a songwriter, featured at one of their informal showcases. I've been there to conduct an interview with Bill and Gloria Gaither (read my insights about that here). Last year, I had the opportunity to speak about Jesus as the one true Worship Leader. This year, I'm participating as a kind of "pastor-chaplain" over the event, along with speaking to the topic of worship leading as prayer leading, along with hosting a few breakouts.

The 2016 theme is a bit more focused than previous years: "Teach Us to Pray." Worship Leader Magazine and the conferences have been examining the nature of worship as prayer, believing that a recovery of this idea just might be the source of healing and wholeness for many of the current issues before the church's worship today. Of course I agree.

Breakout Session: 10 Things Worship Leaders Wish Their Pastors Knew. Let's just say this one will get saucy.

Breakout Session: Leading Through a Worship Style Transition. Let's just say this one IS saucy. I don't need to add to the sauce.

There's still time to register for Virginia, Texas, and Kansas (I'll be in VA and KS).


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. :)


Why the Doxology & Theology Conference is Worth Checking Out

November 13-14
Louisville, KY 

There are a handful of conferences that come around every year or two that I think are worth a worship leader's time and investment. They're not all the same, and they therefore don't serve the same purpose. I tend to think of conferences like these in two broad categories. The first are the "big tent" conferences. A great example of this would be the National Worship Leader Conference, now hosted regionally 3-4 times a year. Big tent conferences will try to bring a lot of people together, and they're usually willing to absorb a fair amount of tension in the vision, theology, philosophy, and outlook of worship. The second category of worship conference is the "niched" conference. This type of conference is there to articulate a specific vision for and outlook on worship.  The Doxology & Theology Conference (less than one month away!) is this kind of conference.

Why Go to a Worship Conference in General?

Before I advocate for D&T, the question should be asked as to whether conferences are valuable at all. I see worship conferences as having a two-fold value, neatly divisible in even halves. 50% of the value of a conference is its content and insight, and 50% is the networking. Even if I'm not much of a "student-type" or even if I'm not in a very teachable place (my life is busy, I've got other things occupying my attention), there is something refreshing to the soul about stepping outside of your world, zooming out, and getting a perspective of the forest instead of always inspecting the bark of that one tree that you live next to. EVERY time I go to a conference, something about the content will take me by surprise, illumine my life, and affect my ministry back home. But I also go simply to meet people, have conversations, hear stories, and establish more contacts. Usually, I'm frantically trying to get their name down so that I can follow them on twitter or connect with them on FB or Instagram. I can't tell you how much I've learned from and forged friendships through conferences followed up by social media. It's been remarkable, and it is a great habit to be ever widening your own circle of contacts and "influencers." And there's an ecclesiastical-theological truth here: the more of the body of Christ I know, the better I know Christ.

Why Go to This One?

So D&T is a conference with a specific theological vision. To be clear, it will talk about worship from within a theologically conservative and evangelical framework. It will view thoughtful cultural engagement as important, and it will articulate a gospel- and Christ-centered approach to worship and ministry. If you wanted a more thorough understanding, check out the book, Doxology & Theology. In the past, it has gathered the types of worship leaders who have been associated with churches connected with bigger wheelhouses like the Gospel Coalition and the Acts 29 network, so you can expect similar (though not identical) spheres of thought. You will find that the content has been influenced by pastors and theologians like D. A. Carson, John Piper, and Mark Dever, and worship thinkers like Bob Kauflin and Harold Best.

This year's conference is focused on "The Life & Labor of the Worship Leader"...a topic which is near and dear to my heart. I'll be doing a breakout on the subject of how worship leaders can think of themselves as pastors and engage their jobs more pastorally. If you're in or around Louisville, or if you can swing a last-minute trip, I'd encourage you to come!


What I Learned from Bill & Gloria Gaither

Two weeks ago, at the National Worship Leader Conference in Kansas City, I had the opportunity to interview music legends, Bill and Gloria Gaither, in front of a large group of worship leaders and songwriters. Among the Gaithers' many accolades, they've been named the ASCAP Songwriters of the Century (yes, the century), which is not insignificant. Besides their songwriting, they've been faithful "platformers" over the years, responsible for the birth of music careers of not a small amount of artists.

If you're like me, you're tempted to write off the names of folks like Bill and Gloria Gaither. They may have been influential at one time (and may still be now), but their music and ethos feel to us like fourth cousins twelve times removed, we think. Modern worship leaders may have faint recollections of who they are or what they've done, but they don't have any bearing on or connection to what we do now, we believe. How we feel might be exemplified in the typical comment I received on Facebook after posting some pictures of my interview: "Wow, my grandpa LOVES them!" The Gaithers are for our grannies and pappies. 

Cycles of Sameness

The author of Ecclesiastes is instructive here: there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9). What I quickly realized as I prepared for and interviewed Bill & Gloria was that the same issues in every generation of worship leading end up recycling themselves, and it is only we who are young and rather arrogantly naive who think that we've stumbled upon THE answer in response to the previous generation's worship errors. The Gaithers have been able to witness several cycles of reaction and counter-reaction, and they were, for me, a treasure trove of wisdom and insight. 

One of the first questions I asked them was, "When you began your songwriting, what were YOU reacting against?" They said they were responding to a de-personalized faith. They wanted the church to be able to sing songs that hit them on the ground, where they were, in their experience. They were aiming at a more concerted authenticity (sound familiar?). And then the Jesus Movement came around, reacted to Gaither-ized worship, looking for something, well, authentic...something that matched their experience. Then the Jesus Movement music transformed (and, in the words of Worship Leader founder, Chuck Fromm, became "routinized") into an industry just in time for another generation to rise up and respond with cries for more authenticity. Enter "modern worship." And we're seeing the tide turn again, and more reactions occur. This historical observation, perhaps best articulated by folks like the Gaithers who have lived through these cycles, is important for us to ponder.

A Few Surprising Insights

One of the songwriting nuggets from Gloria came in the context of her admonishment of some of the anemic songwriting that inevitably accompanies every generation. She encouraged songwriters to, among other things, study mythology. She spoke of how mythology has a way of opening the mind and imagination to think in layers of meaning and communication, expanding what our songs can do. Mythology encourages thinking in pictures, symbols, and metaphors, and it is in the realm of such word-imagery where great lyrics (for worship songs or any song) are born. This rang true with my own experience, recalling that after reading Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I found words flowing from my mind and hand that were workable, imaginative, poetic, and profound. Reading mythology can be like weightlifting for songwriters.

Gloria also challenged our individuals and institutions to value songwriting as an art and craft worth studying, honing, and shaping. Songwriters should be masters of their language, and more Christian colleges should have songwriting degree programs, she said. This sentiment flies in the face of at least one popular philosophy of songwriting that basically says, "Jesus gave me this song; it's from my heart; therefore, it's good." Hmm...

The Sum

All this (not to mention the entire conference) was a good reminder to me of how we need to hear each other out across traditions, generations, and persuasions. There's a temptation, in the midst of our tribalism (and I'm one who believes that lines and distinctions have their place), to believe that our tribes are all that there really are, or all that God really cares about. What can result is a kind of blind patriotism to our tribe that fails to see and savor the rich ways the Spirit is moving and shaking beyond us. Events like the National Worship Leader Conference always cause me to lift my head from micro-inspecting the tree that I'm in to see the forest that's all around me. And this year, the Gaithers were a big part of that. Thank you, Bill & Gloria!


An Important Worship Conversation Happening in the Blogosphere

Two worship blogs I regularly follow, authored by two worship leaders I highly respect--David Santistevan and Jamie Brown--have engaged in an important exchange, asking the question about what the "real problem" is with evangelical worship today.

It began a few weeks ago with Jamie's post responding to his (and my) experience at the National Worship Leader Conference in DC. Here is the crux of the problem, as Jamie articulates it:

Throughout the conference, at different sessions, with different worship leaders, from different circles, using different approaches, and leading with different bands, I picked up on a common theme. It’s been growing over the last few decades. And to be honest, it’s a troubling theme. And if this current generation of worship leaders doesn’t change this theme, then corporate worship in evangelicalism really is headed for a major crash.

It’s the theme of performancism. The worship leader as the performer. The congregation as the audience. The sanctuary as the concert hall.

It really is a problem. It really is a thing. And we really can’t allow it to become the norm. Worship leaders, we must identify and kill performancism while we can.

David's post, in response, came two days ago:

The problem with modern worship isn’t the lights. The problem with modern worship isn’t the writing and singing of original music. Matter of fact, I believe we need more songwriters writing more songs…better songs. The problem isn’t the dimly lit room. The problem isn’t the big rock band and creative music. Our hearts don’t know their need for Christ. We are not desperate. We are not broken. We don’t approach Sunday with expectant, faith-filled, repentant hearts. We aren’t hungry for Jesus.

Please read both their posts to understand what they're saying. They're both making important points. Both posts have received lots of comments and incited plenty of (helpful) social media dialogue. In commenting on David's post, Jamie wrote:

I totally agree that we need to acknowledge and express our desperation for Jesus. Many times, dead worship exists because we don’t know our need for a Savior. I’m right with you. But is the solution to sing more songs about desperation? Is the solution to people’s lack of awareness of their desperation to engage their senses, turn the lights down, turn the stage lights up, or sing newer songs? No. The answer to desperation is not more desperation. The answer to desperation is exaltation. We exalt Christ. Clearly, loudly, boldly, and sweetly. Our job is to exalt Jesus. And when he is lifted up, he does the drawing people to himself. And then people are satisfied.

There's something in what both David and Jamie said here that is zeroing in on some of the ultimate core issues, and this is where a good understanding of God's "two words" of Law and Gospel--a HUGE Reformational distinctive, championed by Luther, Calvin, Beza, and Ursinus--is deeply illuminating. The "Law-Gospel distinction" (see Michael Horton's helpful explanation here) tells us, with Paul, that God's communication to us basically comes to us in two forms: Law ("do this for me") and Gospel ("I have done this for you"). They each have job descriptions. One of the preeminent tasks of God's Law (among other tasks) is to show us our desperation. God's Law, whose bar can be summed up as "be perfect as Your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:48), exists primarily to drive us to Christ by revealing our inability to keep it. We hear God's Law most clearly in Scripture, but we feel echoes and iterations of God's Law in ten thousand voices each and every day. It is the voice of "you don't measure up." We feel it when we see a person more fit than we are. We feel it when we get passed over for a job promotion or receive less than A+ on a paper. We feel it in our relational brokenness. We feel it, in the words of Jamie, when we rightly experience what it's like to truly "exalt" God: He is perfect, and we are anything but. 

When we truly hear the voice of the Law, it has a crushing effect. The Law causes desperation. Then, and only then, can the Gospel sweep in with all its relieving good news: "Though you are wholly inadequate, there is One Who has come to do for you what you could never do for yourself." God's two words: Law then Gospel. The beauty of God's design here is that it is only the Gospel that can both satisfy and supply the energy for what the Law demands. If we want to become good Law-keepers, no amount of telling us to obey the Law can do that. It is simply not the Law's job description to fulfill what it demands. The Gospel does this. It transforms our heart to want to obey the Law.

If there is truly one central problem with evangelical worship today (and evangelicalism in general), it is the confusion of these two realities and the resulting havoc it wreaks on our worship. Here's how this plays out in this discussion. Jamie's point is that worship leaders misunderstand their role vis-a-vis God and the congregation, and he's right. We worship leaders who tend to inflate our own self-importance begin to slip into entertainment mode. David's point is that worshipers need to come to grips with their desperation, and he's right. The Law, which emanates from a proper "exaltation" of God ("Wow, God, You are SO marvelous...SO perfect, SO holy, SO pure"), makes us desperate ("I'm ruined, because I recognize I'm NOT that nor on my best day could live up to that"). The performance-beholden worship leader and lackluster worshipers need to be reminded of their brokenness. And then we need the worship-producing good news.

The kind of worship that begins to chip away at the problems, the idolatries, and the bad practices of all worship everywhere is worship that begins to appropriate the weight of Law and Gospel to their fullest capacity. It is worship that makes much of God's glory, then much of our inadequacy, then much of God's lavish grace in Christ. When these realities receive their proper attention and ordering in our worship, I won't go so far as to say that the "problems" solve themselves, but I will say that they're finally set within their proper context to be dealt with.

A worship leader (most likely unknowingly) addicted to the limelight doesn't have a realistic view of themselves (which the Law gives), because if they did, they'd be screaming in what they do, "Don't look at me! Look at Jesus!" (which is precisely what Jamie was encouraging). A worshiper obsessed over secondary issues to the point of not engaging in worship also lacks a clear diagnosis of their own problem (which, again, the Law provides) and needs to understand their desperation (which is what David was encouraging). And, we would all say, the only way out of this for all of us is to allow the finished work of Christ to be declared, retold, re-sung, and re-lived in our gathered times. And this is what the Gospel provides. 


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.


Why Liturgofreaks, Doxologeeks, and Charismaniacs Need Each Other

As I was participating in the worship services of the National Worship Leader Conference this week, I was again reminded of the beauty of the broader church and why we all need each other in the worship conversation. 

As I've said before, modern evangelical worship across denominational lines now stands heavily indebted to the charismatic tradition. From the flow of the service, to the individualized spirituality, to the deep intimacy, to the highly emotive expression, many evangelicals now have expectations and "traditions" for what worship looks like and how we participate in it. Meanwhile, as the blind spots of this approach have grown into gaping holes, not a small amount of folks have reacted, turning to more thoughtful approaches to song-selection and lyrics or even full-blown traditional liturgical practices. This group is desiring to find roots, substance, depth, and greater insight.  I am one of those evangelicals who has journeyed there.

Each camp can write the other off.   Each camp can obviously find fault and point out the worst things about the other side which, though they may be caricatures, probably contain at least kernels of truth. But what I'm reminded of, when I step into broad contexts like the National Worship Leader Conference, is that we both have something very important to say to one another that can help us all worship more beautifully and biblically. 

Liturgofreaks and doxologeeks are here to remind us all, among other things, that it is important to be rooted in Scripture and the historic church. Charismaniacs are here to remind us all, among other things, to expect that God is actually, tangibly, and immediately present to his people when they gather for worship.  The former remind us that substance matters. The latter remind us that experience matters. We could argue about what comes first, or what's most important. But I might advise the first step: worship with one another, and do your best to engage. Worship several times together, especially if your instinctual reaction is to fortify your walls rather than cut a doorway into them.  Dialogue with worshipers in those "other" traditions.  Ask them open-ended questions about why they love worship so much and why it is meaningful to them. Ask them about their past, their scars, their story. This approach is one application of what Jesus taught us when He said that the watching world will know us by our love (John 13:35).