Finding that place

There’s a sweet spot in the presence of God. A place where it seems as if you cease to exist and it’s all just Him. A place of such comfort and rest that you are refreshed. A place where you’re sensitive to Him. A place where hearing from Him, sensing His prompting, is easy.

How do we get there?

It happens in your personal worship time when you shut down the noise and distractions. It’s when you open yourself to Him, being authentic and abandoned. It isn’t the time when you are crying out to Him for the answer to a question or praying that a situation would be resolved. This is a time where you’re only focusing on Him and expressing your love and appreciation for Him.

It’s a place of simplicity.

It’s not in the midst of production or presentation. It’s a simple expression of your relationship with God. Real, meaningful, heartfelt worship starts at home. It’s you giving Him the adoration He deserves. It’s you saying, “God, You’re more than enough. You’re stronger than any other. You’re always faithful. You never lie. You’re the One True God.”

It’s you appreciating the depth of His character.

We’re quick to vent to each other about problems and challenges we face. We’re quick to try to produce worship services that are structured, slick, and perfect. We’re quick to try to live our lives and do the ministry with our own strength and wisdom. But God never intended that we live our lives or minister that way. He wants us to rely on His wisdom, His direction, His strength, and the refreshing that comes from being with Him where He is the center of our attention.

That sweet spot of connection with God in personal worship is the basis for worship-leading in the church. When it’s important to you to spend time with God, it will show. Your worship-leading at church will be grounded in that sweet place of relationship. It starts at home.

How to write a worship song Part 2

There are some practical, musical components that you will need to create when you write a worship song. The experience doesn’t have to be frustrating if you follow a simple process.

Here are my suggestions for you when you start to write a worship song.

  1. Write the words first.

    Ensure that the words are meaningful. A common way to write the words is to focus on the chorus first and express the theme of the song in the chorus. Then write the verses to support the theme that is found in the chorus. The verses can be more specific, possibly stating the why or the reason for the thought found in the chorus.

    Here’s an example from a song I wrote titled None Like You.

    The chorus states the general theme of the song, which is that Jesus is above all: “And Your Name will be exalted, the Word of God who is victorious. Lord of lords You rule in power. You are glorious. Seated high above the heavens with the Father in all glory, You will reign with Him forever for your Kingdom has no end.”

    Verse 1 gives specifics on the theme: “In all the world there is none like You. The only One who’s faithful and true. Worthy to be honored and adored, Jesus, You alone are Lord. You are the only blessed Son who was sent to make God’s Kingdom come, and on earth His will to be done. Jesus, You’re the Holy One.” © 2002 Melody Lavin / ASCAP / CCLI #4028963

    All verses should have the same rhythm and melody structure to create consistency in the song. You also can write a bridge and/or a pre-chorus, both of which provide musical interest and can augment the song. A bridge can express the thoughts found in the chorus in a different way, or it can add an additional thought that augments our understanding of the main theme of the song. A bridge usually has a slightly different musical feel and group of chords. A pre-chorus can be a line or two of words and melody that create musical and thought movement from a verse into the chorus.

    Examples of a pre-chorus and a great bridge are found in the song More Than Amazing by Lincoln Brewster and Mia Fieldes. (Click the song title to listen in YouTube.)

  2. Create a lead line—a melody line—for the words.

    The melody should be singable by people who don’t have trained voices. You want the congregation to be able to sing it easily. Select a key in which the congregation can sing the song. Some songs have melody lines that are written in two octaves, and while a trained tenor or soprano can sing them, the congregation may wonder what notes to sing if they can’t hit the notes that the worship leader is singing. Be thoughtful when choosing the melody line.

    A musician friend of mine once said that we often write lyrically and musically in the styles that we know or are comfortable with. I do agree that when we’re looking for a lead line or chord progression and we’re using our naturally-developed musical skill we’ll tend to lean to our musical knowledge and experience. However, I find that when I’m just privately worshiping God, I’ll hear lead lines and chord progressions in my spirit, not in my mind. If I write those down and use them as the basis for the song, they are more powerful than what I can create from my mind and musical experience. They came from my spirit, and there is a spiritual depth and connection when they are played.

  3. Create a basic chord structure that supports the melody line.

    If you start with simple chords that work with the melody, when the song is roughly finished, you can go back and rework those chords, substituting the simple chords with some that are more rich and complex in their structure. This will create musical interest within the song. If you aren’t comfortable or skilled in doing that, you can ask another musician to help you.

  4. Establish the rhythm and tempo.

    Choose a rhythm style that expresses the meaning of the song. Also, your culture, your church and its vision, and your personal preference for the song’s rhythmic feel can all be powerful influences when you select a rhythm style.

    Choose a tempo for the song. You may have thought that you wanted to write an uptempo song; however, if you’ve written verses that have a lot of words, you may need to slow the song’s tempo. Since the words are more important in a worship song than the music (because it’s worship to and of God which is defined by the words), then you want to ensure that the congregation can sing the words and engage with their meaning. This doesn’t mean that worship songs all need to be slow. It means that you should be musically thoughtful.

    A song of praise or worship of God will focus on Him, but it also will give you a way in which you can be uninhibited before God. The song will provide a way through which you can release and express the joy and love within you toward Him.

    I encourage you to evaluate the musical components of your song. When you’ve chosen your chords and rhythm, ask yourself this question: Is the music manipulating my body or my soul? Determine if the song allows your spirit to rejoice or if the music is simply inspiring you to want to dance because the song has a great rhythm. Ask yourself if the musical lead line is so plaintive, so melancholy, that it affects your emotions. Ask yourself why you chose that structure or chord progression. Be thoughtful and focus on being inspired and sensitive to what will bless God and give people a great vehicle through which they can praise and worship Him.

  5. Play the song for trusted friends and other worship leaders.

    Ask them what they think about the song—the words, the melody, the rhythm, and the chord structure. Be open to hear what they have to say. They’ll have suggestions that may make the song better and stronger. Try to avoid being defensive when they give their suggestions. The way to do that is to remember that other people may have exactly what you need to augment what you’ve written and created.

  6. Enjoy the process.

    I love the process of writing music. I love music. Even more, I enjoy spending time with God to discover what will please and honor Him. I’m blessed in the development of the songs.

    When I look back at the songs I wrote years ago, I see my musical and spiritual immaturity. Those songs helped people to worship God, and I grew in the process while writing them, but I understand more now. When I write, it’s a connection with God combined with the desire to give something to other Christians—a meaningful way to express their adoration of God.

How to write a worship song Part 1

Music is powerful, and it can be used in worship either to inspire your heart (spirit) to worship God or to manipulate your emotions and appeal to your body.

When we write worship songs, we have the opportunity to create something that blesses God and provides people with a vehicle through which they can release the love and adoration that they have for God.

It’s vital to first understand the spiritual component of writing a worship song.

Many songwriters begin by writing from their past life experiences and their journey with God. They write about what they’ve been through and how God has helped them, but they are the primary focus of the song. For example, “I am weak. I’ve been through this. When I am crushed…, etc.” I am in no way diminishing the struggles and challenges that we face; however, if it’s worship of God given to Him, then the focus of the song should be on Him and who He is.

Why would you write a song about your experience or pain, call it a worship song, and ask other people to sing about something that they didn’t experience or can’t relate to, and the song itself doesn’t exalt God in any substantive way?

True worship comes from your spirit.

Your spirit worships God. Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24 NASB God is looking for true worshipers—people who genuinely have the nature of a worshiper of God—people who have placed Him first in their lives and focus on blessing Him with their lives and their words.

A worship song should focus on God. After all, it’s worship of God and to God. It will come from your spirit where you are connected to Him. The words of worship will be about Him and to Him.

Jesus also said in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” NASB And in verse 17, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and that He abides with you and will be in you. The Holy Spirit prompts you to write words of worship and praise that glorify God and are aligned with God’s Word.

When you write a song, you reveal the depth of your spiritual life.

As you’re writing worship songs. you will reveal both your knowledge and your ignorance of the Scriptures. The words you choose for the song will reveal what you know about God and don’t know, and what you know about who you are in Christ and what you don’t know. It’s vital that you read the Bible and study who God is and who you are in Him.

I find that my best songs come after a time of prayer and worship. I’m fully focusing on God at that point. I am able to sense the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and I’m inspired to exalt God in the words that I write.

Here’s a quick test that you can use when evaluating the worship song words that you’ve written. Count how many references you make to yourself where you’ve written the words: I, me, or my. Then count the number of references you make to God where you’ve written the words: You are, You have, Your.

When I write a song that is worship of God and to Him, I diligently avoid writing about myself. If I find that I’ve taken the focus of the song away from Him and put it on myself, I will rewrite that section.

Worship isn’t about glorifying what I’ve been through or how I feel or what I think. Worship is about how amazing God is, who He is in His character and nature, and how He expresses who He is.

Here’s something to think about. Instead of trying to get people to connect to what you’ve experienced, give them a revelation of who God is and let them see Him, His strength, His wisdom, His love, His faithfulness, His joy, and more. That will take their focus off of themselves and where they are, and it will put their focus on the One who is our source, who is greater than anything, and who is more than enough.

The danger of competition

We’ve all done it—compared ourselves to someone else, or compared our team to another band.

We’ve heard someone else play or we’ve seen a worship band on tour, and we’ve thought, we are better than they are, or, we are terrible compared to them. The results of that comparison are destructive.

If we think that we’re better than someone else, we can become arrogant. Arrogance keeps us from living a life that demonstrates humility and the selfless love of Jesus—what we are instructed by Him to do.

If we think that someone else is better than we are, we can become discouraged. That could lead us to feel like we want to quit, or to ask the question, “Why would God ever want to use me? I’m not as good as they are.”

If we think that we’re as good as the other team, but we envy them and wonder why they are famous or have more opportunities than we do, we will see ourselves in competition with them. That causes us to miss the point of working together as the Church—the Body of Christ.

The temptation to compare yourself to someone else is always there. Giving in to that temptation or those thoughts can indicate that you’re not sure that you should be where you are. You may feel in adequate either because you haven’t been able to increase your skills or because your type of talent isn’t the same as someone else’s.

We can be balanced in our perspective when we remember that we are not all called to be in the same church, and we aren’t all called to minister to the same types of congregations. God did not create us to be alike in musical style, personal temperament, or area of outreach. There is beauty in that difference.

We look at the lives of the apostles and see that they ministered in different areas with different people groups. They weren’t all called to be in Jerusalem at a church of 10,000. They went where God sent them and they did what He instructed to the best of their ability, which He then augmented by His power.

At the core foundation of our faith, we know that God united us as believers through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:11-22). He wants us to work together to demonstrate that unity. If we are comparing ourselves to others and becoming dissatisfied or arrogant, we are denying the work that God has done in us.

Unity is the opposite of competition.

Remember that we are united in Christ, and that every one of us has unique and important contributions to make. We are to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV

It’s God’s ministry, and He places us where we need to be so we can be the most effective on His behalf. If God has inspired you to be in a specific place at this time, then rest in that and allow your creativity to flow in that commitment. Enjoy being in the right place at the right time.

Appreciate what others can do, and thank God for the opportunity to be who you are where He places you. There can be intense satisfaction and joy in that.

Lead out of the overflow

When our ministry in the church is to lead worship, at times we may forget to worship at home for the pure joy of worshiping.

There are certain people that I really like to hang out with, but I don’t want to be with them all the time. That’s not the case with God. I want to stay connected to Him—talking to Him, listening for His prompting, and worshiping Him—every day all day. It may sound simplistic to say, but I like Him better than I like anyone else. The more time I spend getting to know Him and His character, the more I am inspired to worship Him. He really is worthy of worship.

Starting the day by telling God how amazing He is and thanking Him for His faithfulness puts our attention on Him, and it reminds us that we’re not alone. It’s a decision to go beyond how we feel or what we see and to pay attention to our relationship with Him—the relationship that sustains us.

When we choose to live life continually in God’s presence, we will experience joy that cannot be contained. Psalm 16:11 says, “You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” NASB

To avoid making worship-leading a performance or just an obligation, we need to make worship an integral part of our day.

Great worship-leading is the overflow of a strong, personal worship life.

Paul the apostle wrote about his desire to have a deep relationship with God saying, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . . that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection.” Philippians 3:8,10 NASB

I recently wrote in my book, Do Not Attempt This At Home & Other Myths About Worship, that “Paul wasn’t writing about a simple acquaintance-type of relationship. He wanted to have a full, experience-based knowledge of God; the kind of relationship that is a result of walking through life together, experiencing everything together. When you know God at that level, you see Him for who He really is, and you can’t help but worship Him. Your worship will be of a depth that taps the core of who you are.”

So let’s remember to spend today praising and worshiping the One who never leaves us. And as we lead worship, let’s express the joy that results from being with God every day all day. Lead out of the overflow.

Respecting each other

I’m often asked if worship team members should be allowed to sing or play during a service if they consistently miss coming to rehearsals or if they come late to rehearsals or services. My response is always a question. Do they miss rehearsals or come late because of family issues, because their car doesn’t work, or for another compelling reason? If their excuse is not reasonable, and if their tardiness or avoidance is chronic, then the person is not respecting the team, and they are not being a good steward of the time that God has given them.

As team members, we show each other respect through our actions, our words, and our attitudes. If someone is chronically late or frequently missing rehearsals, then they’re not respecting God, His ministry, the team, and the church people. They also are being arrogant, showing everyone that they are not willing to commit, submit, or prepare. These are character issues.

By allowing someone to participate on the worship team when they have not consistently attended rehearsals or they are chronically late—without compelling reasons—we are saying that worship ministry is something to be handled lightly. I don’t see that laziness and complacency are characteristics that the Bible condones.

Additionally, some worship leaders have said that their band members are so skilled that they don’t need to practice with the singers. I disagree. Rehearsal time should be more than a time where we just practice the music. It’s a time where we connect with each other, and more importantly, where we learn to flow as a team, and where we listen to what God wants to do through us in the coming service. Worship ministry is not just about musical skill or professionalism. It is ministry, and there is a difference between performance ability and the ability to be sensitive to what will bless God in worship.

We should be asking ourselves questions that make us evaluate our attitudes, actions, and character. Questions such as, what are the things I do that disrespect God and my team members? In what ways have I valued the gifts that God has given me? And, do I respect the congregation enough to be prepared for what He has inspired me to do in the church?

It all comes down to respect for people, for the ministry, and for God.

Keeping a good attitude

When you're a part of a small team, you feel needed. People can hear you when you sing or when you play an instrument. When you're a part of a larger team like a choir, or you're on a rotating schedule and do not always sing or play, you may feel that your talent is overlooked. That can be discouraging.

When we're discouraged and we think that we're not receiving the recognition we deserve, we have missed the point of worship ministry. Ministry is service. It's service to God and service to people. You are serving and blessing God when you worship Him. You are serving people by preparing and creating an opportunity for corporate worship to occur.

Keeping a good attitude even when you know your talent and skills aren't being used is vital. Paul wrote in Philippians 2:1-8 that we should live and work together in unity—with the same mind and love—without selfish ambition or conceit, focusing instead on preferring others and doing what is best for them with humility. Jesus is our example in this. Regardless of His position before coming to earth, He willingly sacrificed Himself for us. He preferred us; He put us and what we needed before Himself.

If we're truly in worship ministry to serve and bless God and people, then the ministry opportunity is not about us. It's not about whether we are heard or seen. It's about creating a great sound that comes from being unified together through Jesus Christ. It's about corporate worship where we are blessing God together. It's about being like Jesus.

Restructuring the team

Any time you add services or meeting times that require worship ministry and more involvement from musicians, the opportunity to revamp the team presents itself. If you’ve lived through this, you know that it can be an exciting time or a time of stress as you scramble to find the people needed to minister in an additional service. Maybe you’ve heard stories of churches that started more services and then stopped them within a few months because their volunteers quit.

Some churches seem to make the transition to more services seamlessly. How do they do that?

Here are three key components that will help you to successfully transition to more services.

Communication

When your pastor begins to talk in staff meetings about additional services, you will need to communicate the musical depth (or lack of depth) of the worship team or teams. This will affect the timeline of the launch of new services if you need to develop team members’ musical skills or look for additional singers or instrumentalists. I also recommend that you not wait until your pastor states that more services will be occurring before you begin providing musical development for your current team members who need it.

Then you will need to communicate with your team or teams. Basically, you need to not just show them that you are moving from point A to point B and how awesome point B will be, but you also need to show them that point A is no longer a good place to be. Change is a constant in the Christian life.

Development

Create a developmental environment. If you have only one team and you need to split it to develop a second team to accommodate another service, you will need to evaluate the musicianship of each singer and instrumentalist. If some of the singers or instrumentalists are not strong enough musicians to sing or play without stronger musicians near them, you will need to develop their skills.

You are now in a position to vision-cast to the existing musicians. You could say, “Just as you’ve committed to the ministry of helps through music, we’re committed to your continued development both spiritually and musically. We’re going to be scheduling some times of spiritual and musical development so we’re fulfilling our job as leaders in the church. We’re also going to be going through some restructuring of our schedules for the worship ministry, and we’ll be evaluating how to best use your skills within the new service format.”

Scheduling

If you have multiple teams already, you can restructure the schedule to accommodate the additional services. However, people’s schedules may not allow you to arbitrarily choose when they will serve when new services are added. You’ll want to get their input on their availability when you communicate the coming changes.

When creating the new schedule:

  • I suggest that you schedule a rehearsal time once a week where all teams are present to learn new songs, create one blended sound, and maintain a unified vision for the church and the music ministry.

  • You also will want to schedule development time for those who need it, possibly twice a month, where musical skills are taught such as how to harmonize, how to learn a new part, how to blend, how to improvise, and so on.

  • Then you will need to schedule the teams for the services. Use your strongest team members until you have been able to develop additional musicians. If you’ve fully communicated the coming changes, then your people will understand that you’re working in this changing time for their benefit and growth. If they are uncomfortable with this, then perhaps there is another department where they may better fit.

When you are planning the changing schedule, please keep in mind your team members’ work and family lives, and the fact that as musicians, they also need to practice and learn new music. You don’t want to burn out your volunteers by asking them to do more than they can.

Your pastor should be kept informed of any scheduling challenges you face. You also may want to ask your pastor to pray with you and the team as you add the new services and prepare for greater outreach as a church. This is an exciting time and together you’re going to do great things.

I’ve written more on the topics of scheduling and respecting the team members’ gifts, which you can find here and here.

What if someone asks you to sing a bogus worship song?

We all have our favorite songs that have encouraged us through tough times.

People bring me songs like that and ask if I will put them in a worship set. If the songs are not truly praise or worship, I won’t consider using them. However, I don’t want to hurt those people’s feelings because many times they are emotionally attached to those songs. But if we are going to truly worship God, we need to evaluate whether a song focuses on and blesses Him.

So what do you say to the person who brings you a song that is not really worship or praise of God?

Recognize that the song is important to them or that they hear something in it that resonates with where they are or have been. Ask them to tell you what it is about the song that is meaningful to them.

This is a good time to go through the song words with them gently and ask them to compare the song words to the New Testament. I have a list of scriptures that I show in worship workshops. We compare Christian songs’ words to those scriptures to see if they align. So many times, we find that songs sound spiritual but they don’t truly agree with the truth of who we are as believers according to the New Testament or who God is as we see in the Bible.

If our goal as worship leaders is to truly lead worship and praise of God, then we need to communicate that to the people of the congregation. It should always be done respectfully and with the goal of creating an understanding of who God is and what will bless Him. The words of Hebrews 13:15 provide direction, “Through him them, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” NASB

We want to praise and thank God for what He’s done, and we want to exalt and adore Him for who He is.

Where can you find good songs?

While talking to some worship pastors recently, I asked them a question that I’m often asked during my worship clinics: “Where do you find good songs?” Their answer was, “Everywhere.”

Great answer. It’s important to be aware of what’s available beyond the songs that have been the backbone of your worship sets.

Here are a few ways to keep in touch with what new songs have been released, and to find solid, scriptural songs that will have longevity and impact.

Listen to the radio, Spotify®, YouTube, or a streaming audio platform.

I was sitting in my car one night waiting to meet with a pastor to schedule a worship clinic. I had the Christian radio station playing and the song Glory by Phil Wickham came on. I truly sensed the presence of God while simply sitting in the car. Since I had never heard the song before, I typed some of the lyrics into my phone. Once I was home, I found the song on CCLI®, downloaded the chord chart with lyrics, and sent details about the song to the team I was leading at that time. It’s a great song that I’ve led in worship in many countries since I first heard it. I was grateful that the station played that song that night.

Not every song on a Christian radio station qualifies as a worship song. You may hear many songs that are Christian entertainment or encouragement before you hear a song that resonates as worship of and to God. Listen and evaluate.

Talk to other worship leaders, or join groups on social media that share worship information.

You are not in a competition, and sharing information, songs, and even resources is part of being the Body of Christ. People have told me about new songs being released, and I’ve been able to use some of them when leading worship. If you would like a list of songs that I recommend, let me know.

Watch for new releases from a band, artist, or church that consistently has solid new songs.

There are certain groups that consistently release new music. I anticipate hearing what they produce. However, not every song on someone’s project is something that I would use in a worship service. It’s important to evaluate what songs and styles would be a good fit for your church.

Make the time to study the Bible and write your own songs.

You don’t need to limit yourself to the songs that everyone else is singing. The same Spirit of God who lives in other songwriters is the same Spirit who lives in you (1 Corinthians 3:16). He can and will inspire you with lyrics and lead lines as you seek Him. If you aren’t comfortable writing the supporting chords, then find some musicians that you can worship with and allow God to flow through all of you as you seek Him for new songs.

Most importantly, evaluate what you are writing against the criteria of whether it truly is praise and worship of and to God—songs that tell who He is and what He has done. If the song is focused on the singer, then you really aren’t worshiping God, you’re encouraging yourself. There’s a place for songs of encouragement provided they agree with what the New Testament says about you as a believer. New Testament scriptures are clear about who we are and what we have in Christ because of His sacrifice and His resurrection.

I love the connectivity that happens when I talk to other worship leaders, listen to what’s being released, and write and share my own music. We’re in this ministry together.