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RECONCILING FAITH & MUSIC – “WORSHIP LINKS” INTERVIEW

I had the honor of being interviewed by Worship Links – an online library of worship blogs, articles, etc. I got a chance to talk a little about my struggle with worship music:

“…worship music didn’t become a passion for me until just a couple years ago, oddly. My Venn diagrams of “Music” and “Jesus” never really overlapped much until recently. When I was a teenager I became a big music snob. I was always embarrassed by church music. I try to be honest and confessional about that on the blog and within my community. I’m a recovering non-worshiper! (At least corporately speaking.) …God has been kind, and it’s been a strange journey. I’m finally starting to appreciate worship music and its function within the church… “

You can read the entire interview here. Big thanks to Brad at Worship Links. He reads copious amounts of worship blogs, and handpicks his favorites to create a great online resource for the church.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE BY MAKING MUSIC

Jennifer and Gloria’s trip to the Serengheti is less than two weeks away. We have raised enough money to send them and buy the bed, but we want to be poised to help Tangawizi’s community in whatever ways we can. We really believe that God has a few things up his sleeve, and we don’t want to be limited by our cash flow. We want to send and bless Jennifer and Gloria to do whatever God lays on their hearts if/when they find Tangawizi.

So for the next couple of weeks, the proceeds for my entire recorded catalog (Quick Said the Bird, BRIGHTEN UP!, and the gospel songs) will go toward Lincoln’s “Buy Tangawizi a Bed” fund. It’s my attempt at making a difference by making music. As always, enjoy the tunes, help me spread the word, and let me know what you think. As an incentive to help me reach further: if you share this link via email and/or social media I’ll send you one free download code as a thanks. (Be sure to copy me on the email at morrow_nick@hotmail.com, or tag me in the Facebook link or Tweet, so I know who to send the free download to.)

Here a sampling of my favorite recordings, one from each band:

If you’d like to donate without getting any music, you can still donate via PayPal at morrow_nick@hotmail.com.

Also, Gloria and Jennifer have requested for prayer for the rains in Kenya, which are particularly bad at the moment. If the rain doesn’t let up soon, it could very well block roads and bridges to Keekorok, which would delay their trip. I’m convinced God hears and responds to prayers. Lets pray that their trip will be successful.

NEW MUSIC: “IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL” – THE TRAGEDY & TRIUMPH OF HORATIO SPAFFORD

I was doing a gig a couple weeks ago and threw in a few gospel tunes. As I wrapped up one of my sets with a new arrangement of “It Is Well,” a rough, mustached guy approached me.

You ever heard the story of that song?” he asked. I said yes, but couldn’t remember the details. He went on to tell me that his preacher had told him the story of the hymn: Horatio_Spafford

Horatio Spafford was a prominent lawyer in Chicago. A string of tragedies began in 1870, when Spafford’s four year old son died of pneumonia. The large family grieved the loss of their only son. The following spring, Spafford invested much of his wealth in developing real estate in Chicago. Not six months later, “The Great Chicago Fire” overtook the city, including most of Spafford’s new investments.

A couple years passed, and Spafford decided to take his family to England for a vacation. Held up by some imminent business, Horatio sent his family ahead on the Ville du Havre steamship. The steamship was sunk, though, and killed all four of Spafford’s daughters.

Eleven-year-old Annie. Nine-year-old Margaret Lee. Five-year-old Bessie. Two-year-old Tanetta. They were all dead.

telegram

His wife telegrammed, sending Horatio the unspeakable news. Horatio’s life was shattered into fragments. The man had been gutted. His family and his wealth had literally been destroyed. As he made his way to England and the boat passed the place where his children had recently died, Spafford penned the haunting words to the now-famous hymn, “…when sorrows like sea billows roll…”

Few people on earth will ever have to face the suffering of Horatio Spafford. But when our life is met with inevitable hardships, may we suffer in dignity and grace like he did. And may this song- whatever version we sing of it- remind us to cling to our triumph and hope in Christ.

When peace like a river comes my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, You have taught me to say
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

It is well
With my soul

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, oh my soul

I long for the day when my faith becomes sight
The clouds be rolled back like a scroll
The trumpet will sound, and the Lord will appear
Even so, it is well with my soul

I recorded two different versions of this song. I’ll release the other one shortly and let you be the judge of which version is best. In the meantime, listen to the song on the player to the right. You can download my chord chart for the arrangement. You can also download the tune for a buck on Bandcamp. All proceeds will go toward Lincoln’s “Buy Tangawizi a Bed” fundraiser. So enjoy, share, “like”, and spread the word. And as always, I love hearing your specific thoughts on the songs.

May you seek and enjoy the peace of God, which is beyond all human comprehension. He is extravagantly rich, and He desires for you to share in His kingdom through Jesus Christ.

THE JOURNEY TO KEEKOROK

A couple weeks back, I introduced you to our friends Jennifer and Gloria who agreed to help my son Lincoln with his “Buy Tangawizi a Bed” project. Since then we’ve been in touch, crunched the numbers, and I’m excited to tell you that the trip to find Tangawizi has been scheduled! Here are the details:

May 7th. Jennifer and Gloria have already booked a taxi to leave for Keekorok. They should arrive by evening, where Gloria’s friend (a tracker in the Mara) will greet them. They’ve already sent photos ahead of both Tangawizi and the photographer, hoping for a lead.

May 8th-10th. The ladies, with some help from Gloria’s friend, will search in the area for Tangawizi. Unlike searching for someone in the United States, this might be tricky. They plan to start with the schools- traveling from one to another asking children if they know Tangawizi. Granted, “Little T” (or as I like to call him, “Young ‘Weezy”) is probably not old enough for school. But between siblings and friends, we’re hoping this will be the quickest way to find him.

mara schooledited

Once they’ve found Tangawizi, Gloria and Jennifer will buy the bed locally. This will not only save them from carrying a bed all over the Serengheti, but also ensure that the bed is adaptable for Tangawizi’s family. Beyond the bed, we’re still hoping that the token of goodwill can be a means of connecting with Tangawizi’s family and community, and supporting them in the long-term. If there are immediate needs that Jennifer and Gloria can identify, we hope to take care of them promptly, as Lincoln has already raised more than enough to get Tangawizi a bed (see below.)

May 11th. The ladies will return to Nairobi. Lord willing, they’ll have been successful in the search.

Gloria gave us a break down of expenses for the trip:

“Prices are for Jennifer and myself together for a total of five days, travel there, travel back, and three days search. Based on the exchange rate of 85…

  • Car rental from Nairobi to Trans Mara and back and all the traveling while there: 17,500/= ($205.88)
  • Fuel: 18,000/= ($211.76)
  • Lodging: 8,000/= ($94)
  • Food: 5000/= ($58.82)
  • Interpreter from Swahili to Maa (mother tongue of the Masai): 3000/= ($35.29) – We will hire a Masai when we get there.

Total: 51,500= ($605.75)

And because I couldn’t resist: “Finding Tangawizi, getting him a bed, documenting the trip, and connecting two little boys from across the world: priceless!”

Lincoln has already raised $833.84 to buy Tangawizi a bed. Out of the extra funds raised, we want to (1) take care of any additional resources Tangawizi’s family might need, and (2) of course, pay our extremely generous couriers for offering to spend five days seeing this through. It’s worth mentioning that neither Jennifer or Gloria has asked us to pay them for their time. But for as kind as they’ve been, we want to offset costs they might incur for not being home for five days. If you’d like to connect with Jennifer and Gloria and help them reach the sick and poor of Kenya, you can help fund them at Project Agape Love and New Territory Ministries.

In twenty days these ladies will set out for Keekorok. That is exciting to type. We plan to have Lincoln draw a picture for Tangawizi and write him a letter. I’ll be sure to post both of them before the trip. Stay tuned!

We have more people to thank than we can even remember at this point. For everyone who’s donated, prayer, and spread the word…we thank you deeply. The more people have gotten involved, the more fun the story becomes. If you’d still like to get involved, you can do that in one of a few ways: (1) Sign up for updates in the “words & music” field to the right. I promise I won’t spam or send pics of naked Japanese people, and you can unsubscribe at any time; (2) Donate via PayPal at morrow_nick@hotmail.com. All extra funds will go to pay Jennifer and Gloria and buy essential resources for Tangawizi’s community; (3) Spread the word; (4) Pray. The truth is, finding Tangawizi in three days might be very, very difficult. The current rains in Kenya could also delay the trip. There are plenty of things that could go wrong. But I hold on to hope that God has something up His sleeve, and I’m confident our prayers will make a difference. All honor and glory and praise to God.

EASY BREEZY BEAUTIFUL COVER SONGS…OR HOW TO EMBRACE THE ART OF THE COVER

Cover bands catch a lot of crap from songwriters and artists. In his podcast “The Accidental Creative,” Todd Henry concludes every podcast with the tagline “Cover bands don’t change the world.” I’ve given cover bands plenty of grief myself. I used to be the guy shamelessly rocking original songs in the battle of the bands amidst droves of bands covering Red Hot Chili Peppers and Dave Matthews and Chumbawamba and getting way more girls than I did. I used to think covers were the devil.

But now I’m not so convinced.

Want to know the name of the most famous cover band of all time? Their name was “Johnny and the Silver Beatles,” which quickly changed to just “The Silver Beatles,” who eventually became just…The Beatles. Yep, believe it or not the Fab Four started playing mostly covers. Lennon and McCartney started writing songs early in their career, but the majority of their early set lists and albums were filled with rehashed covers of popular songs.

Silver Beatles

the young Silver Beatles

When I realized this, I was a bit humbled about the whole “covering songs” idea. Like the Beatles, I think we can gain some things from covering songs:

Covering songs helps you understand songwriting on a more comprehensive level. I recently played with a brilliant sax player, who said he transcribes several famous solos every week so he can understand the style of great jazz players better. I read an interview with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo who claimed he did the same with Kurt Cobain’s songs. Learning or performing covers gives songwriters a small glimpse through the lens of a great writer. It’s like learning to draw by tracing first. When covering a hymn or a classic, songwriters can learn a lot about crafting lyrics, arranging, and chord structures.

Learning covers can kick-start your creativity. Once I learned a new song every week by an artist I admired. My songwriting and chord vocabulary matured more in that six month period than any other. I learned new chords, alternate guitar tunings, and creative song structures. I started experimenting with them immediately- the new tools were like creative crack. The new chords led to still more chords and voicings, and new melodies followed soon after. Ironically, learning cover songs led to my most prolific songwriting streak to date.

Covering songs gives your audience a way to ease into your original material. I don’t know many people who will sit through an unknown songwriter’s set of all-original material. By nature people gravitate toward the familiar, and drift away from the unfamiliar. Face it- crowds are tough, especially when you are showcasing original material. But peppering in covers into your set helps people get down with the originals.

The Beatles’ first audiences were not adoring fans. They weren’t even serious music fans for that matter. The Beatles’ first long-standing gig was for a rowdy bar in Hamburg, Germany. They did hundreds of gigs in less than a year playing 8 hour sets every night. The ruffian crowds were restless and sometimes violent, and demanded to be entertained.

Covering songs helps you gauge the strength of your original songs. I can’t tell you how much I learned from studying the songwriting of the Beatles. Their chord structures were complex compared to my cowboy chord songs. They loaded their songs full of melodies- my songs only had a melody or two. The Beatles had a wide, whacky variety of styles within their albums- all my earliest songs all sounded the same.

Covering songs can teach us humility, and reveal how much we have to learn. You have to be careful, as Seth Godin says, not to “compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.” If you are mopey because you are a creative genius and nobody “gets” you, be careful here. But if you can detach yourself from the songs you write, an objective approach to critiquing your own music can become a healthy habit.

Covering songs enables new generations to breathe life into outdated arrangements or lyrics. Have you ever heard Jeff Buckley’s version of “Corpus Christi Carol”? Mind-blowing. You’ll cry like a little baby. And Wyclef’s adaptation of the disco hit “Stayin’ Alive” was remarkably cool. Re-imagining cover songs within your own creative context gives listeners a fresh perspective without demanding too much out of them.

There is a creative movement going on within the modern church to update old hymns. Who still talks in “thee’s” and “thou’s”? No one. Who still sings hymns strictly to a pipe organ? No one (except congregations that could be mistaken for senior centers.) Thankfully, this hymn-update movement is revitalizing old classics in a context that makes sense for modern ears. You can do the same thing with cover songs. glen_ledited

You gotta’ crawl before you can walk. And if the Beatles had to pay their songwriting dues, so do you and I. Take a note from Glen Hansard’s character from the film “Once”:

“During the daytime people would want to hear songs that they know, just songs that they recognize. I play (original) songs at night or I wouldn’t make any money. People wouldn’t listen.”

Do yourself- and your audience- a few favors. Work up a few unforgettable covers , and you’ll be a cover-song convert. Promise.

 

INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN POTACZEK

Several weeks ago I posted about worship leaders becoming “anti rock stars.” I wanted to get to the root of the question, “How do we resist the temptation to make celebrities out of our Christian leaders?” As a worship leader who grew up playing music on stages, the question has been a powerful theme and a constant tension for my life. I’ll admit it’s been hard for me to reconcile being a Christian with being in the spotlight.

As I learn what real servant-focused leadership looks like, I’ve had the opportunity to ask a few influential worship leaders if they might share their thoughts on the issue. Jamie Barnes and David Santistevan shared some great wisdom. Today I want to introduce you to Steven Potaczek.

Steven and his wife Amanda spent several years touring with the piano-pop worship band “1,000 Generations.” After landing back in Indianapolis, Steven now serves as the senior worship director at Grace Church. Steven also teaches production and songwriting at Anderson University, and produces records in his “spare” time.

steven coloredited

Steven’s a legit songwriter, too. Among plenty of other more prestigious accolades, he’s had a song on my current favorite show, “Parks & Recreation.” (But to my knowledge, Steven is not to blame for any of Tom Haverford’s R&B slow jams.)

A few months back I saw that Steven had started a blog, forworshipleaders.com, which quickly jumped on the short list of blogs that I follow regularly. Steven writes with a refreshing depth, musically and spiritually. His blogs range from “embracing suffering” to “why it’s important to tune your church drums regularly.”

I connected with Steven through his blog, and asked if he might share a few thoughts. Steven gets ten bonus points for scrubbing toilets as a part of his first church gig. Here’s the full interview:

Nick: You and your wife met in college and started leading worship together and then gained popularity in the CCM market. Now are back to leading worship on a local level. Was there any amount of culture shock you faced, transitioning back and forth between local worship leading and the CMM market?

Steven: Holy cow was there ever. When operating properly, the church’s primary gauge of success is fruit. Without demonizing the entire CCM industry, the reality is that no matter how you cut it, it’s still an “industry.” It’s a business, a market. In business, the primary gauge of success often is financial return. So you’re going to often see a discrepancy between what the Church’s main priorities are and what the music business’ priorities are.

Steven onstage with 1,000 Generations

Steven onstage with 1,000 Generations

To be frank, the more success we starting having as a band, the less I enjoyed things. It’s not that the CCM industry is bad or wrong or anything; in fact, there’s a number of AMAZING believers there. It’s just that I started to realize that I wasn’t liking where our priorities were heading: we were getting more and more pressure to write “radio hits” and go to all these radio and retail conventions, do interviews, etc… That just wasn’t where our hearts were. Again, these aren’t inherently bad things, just something we weren’t sold out on!

Nick: You guys played a fair amount of big venues. How do you reconcile being on stage with loads of lights and sound and remaining a humble servant? Is there a tension there, even within the Christian music industry?

Steven: Yes, there is a tension there no doubt. Some people handle it really well, and others don’t. Since my wife and I were playing large shows on Friday night, and scrubbing toilets (we were janitors at our local church in addition to being worship leaders for a good number of years), it was hard to get too big of an ego! That said, large stages and lights aren’t problems, they’re solutions! When God is moving through an artist or worship leader, many are attracted. How we handle that attention makes all the difference though.

Nick: You’ve led worship in a real variety of places- more than most worship leaders. That must take some degree of flexibility? What advice would you give to worship leaders going into a new place for the first time?

Steven: The best advice I would worship leaders is that it’s not about them. People aren’t (primarily) coming to hear them, but to engage with God. Whenever I’m helping another ministry by leading worship, I’m always wanting to “partner” with them, asking questions like “how can we best come alongside what God is already doing in our congregation.” Flexibility, sure. The big key though is partnership.

Nick: What specific things get in the way of worshiping and leading well? Any stories you’d care to share about a particular worship-fail that you wish you could go back and do differently?

Steven: Let me first say this: there really are two kinds of “Christian” music: that which is regarding Christian lifestyle, and worship. Worship is a totally different beast than performance. Worship leading is about leading the people of God into the presence of God. It’s not about selling albums, garnering more fans, or anything like that. Those things can come as a by-product, but the focus as worship leaders is to lead the people of God into engagement with Him.

On my worship blog (www.forworshipleaders.com), I write a lot about what gets in the way of leading worship well (for instance, see the article “The #1 Worst Thing To Do When Leading Worship”). In terms of my own worship-fails, I’ve had countless! I’m on a journey just like everyone else! I’m constantly growing as a worship leader and need to be fed good information from other leaders. That’s the whole purpose of me creating forworshipleaders.com.

EV_Artist_Steven-Potaczek_EA5621111155_2taf1tl5xezt_PROXYedited

Specifically though if you want some “juice:” I’m awful at remembering lyrics. I’ve botched them more times than I can count. On “Your Love Oh Lord,” I’ve sang “your faithlessness” and had to stop the song because everyone started laughing at me, and on “I Will Worship,” I’ve sang “I will lick” you (a mashup of “I will love you” and “I will seek you”). Yep, me and lyrics…

Nick: What books, blogs, or resources do you recommend for worship leaders?

Steven: Of course! Be sure to visit www.forworshipleaders.com. The topics range from practical spiritual growth to to leadership tips to using Ableton Live in worship. Additionally, a subscription to Worship Leader magazine is fantastic (pass on the monthly CD program though). As far as great books on the subject of worship, I’m reading an incredible book on worship right now by Dick Eastman called “Intercessory Worship.” Matt Redman’s “The Unquenchable Worshiper” is also terrific.

 

RECOVERING THE GOOD PARTS

I was talking with a coworker earlier today about this whole whacky buying a bed situation.

“You know, children have a tendency to train our eyes to see the world in a different way,” he said. I couldn’t agree more.

The more I hang out with my kids, the more I’m convinced they know a few things that I don’t, or that I’ve forgotten. Somehow we grow up and lose our sense of imagination, excitement, and wonder. Somewhere along the line we adults “grew up” and got burned from helping someone. So we just sort of quit.

guitar BW pic

Lincoln learning a few chords…

But when we hang out with our kids, the side-effect is that we start crawling around and playing flashlight hide-and-go-seek again. We buy stuffed rabbit puppets and watch cartoons and buy ridiculous pink outfits. And the same is true with helping people. There is some sweet spot with a kid’s age- somewhere between them crying all the time and them getting sent to the principal’s office- where every kid has uniquely sweet moments. I’m convinced that I need to recover some of that.

So that’s why I’m doing my best trying to keep up with the documentation. My son is inevitably going to look back at the things he’s done in his life. When he looks back on this moment, I hope he can see himself as a kind person who does kind things. There are a lot of things Melissa and I wish for our kids. But if this moment became a self-fulfilling prophecy for Lincoln, we’d be the proudest parents alive.

The Scriptures use the word “Father” to describe God an awful lot. I have a friend who has a hard time making sense of that, because her father is so disinterested in her. Lincoln & Harper’s definition of the word “father” is going to be shaped largely by my actions. That’s a lot to live up to. It makes me really aware and anxious about my failures as a dad. But it also inspires me to try and reflect the kindness of God through my actions. I Hope that when my kids hear “God is like a father,” they’ll sort of get it.

The other reason this particular event is important to me is that I made a promise. I shook a hand. Even if that hand was a three year-old’s who would likely forget the next day, I feel like I should try my best to make good on it. I’ve broken small promises to my son before. One time I said I’d play trains with him on Saturday morning. But I’d stayed up so late Friday night that I just wanted to sleep in and let him veg-out in front of cartoons. I shudder to think that Lincoln’s trust in me is wearing thin when I do stuff like that.

Melissa and I made a resolution to become more responsible and dependable this year. Here’s to making good on that resolution…

Parents, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. The older my kids get the more I realize how much my actions affects them. A wise man once said, “It’s easier to build strong boys than repair broken men.” Any advice on how to do that well is appreciated!

THE TANGAWIZI INVESTIGATION

After putting out the word that we’re searching for Tangawizi, we’ve received a lot of emails and messages similar to this one (from a missionary in Kenya):

“Interesting. A few observations here.

‘Tangawizi’ is the Swahili word for ‘Ginger’ … as in ‘ginger ale.’ It is almost certainly a nick-name, not a true given name.

Kekerook is in the Maasai Mara, which is the northern tip of the Serengeti. We do have some staff out there in that area, but finding an individual child with no more than a nick-name would be quite difficult, I’m afraid.

So, they have quite the task ahead of them, I’m afraid…”

The obvious had eluded me, but my wife caught it.

“Wait…’Ginger’? Is Tangawizi a girl?!?”

Tangawizi color

photo by Gabriele Galiberti

It would make a lot is sense when you consider what we know about Tanagawizi. After all, there is a pink blanket in the picture, and the shorts sort of look like a skirt. Lincoln’s grandma has resolved to just calling Tangawizi “Little T.” Many apologies to the Tangawizis of the world who we’ve been ignorantly calling a “boy.”

Unfortunately, none if this helps much in the search. Our friend April explained in another email:

“When we were exploring the possibility of establishing a child sponsorship program (in Kenya), it was so difficult to figure out which of the kids were boys or girls. And sometimes their names were very tribal/African so it’s not like I could guess well either!

They shave the kids hair and because of the poverty the kids wear whatever clothes are available to them. Some of the teenage boys in one of our homes was wearing pink girly pajama pants with pink crocks because that’s all that would fit him and then you’d have little girls with superman tees on. It’s sad…SO, I understand the aspect of ambiguity. Unfortunately, that makes it more difficult to track down.”

So that’s more bum news. The ambiguity of Tangawizi’s name and gender are going to make the search significantly more challenging. You can’t just scoot around southern Kenya with picture, saying “have you seen this child?” (Especially if you’ve seen Terminator II…)

Thankfully, we also got a huge piece of good news.

Melissa and I have a friend named Jennifer who works as a chaplain in Nairobi, which is about 150 miles from where we think Tangawizi lives. The same day I posted about searching for Tangawizi, Jennifer emailed us and offered to deliver the bed. Amazing. She also asked if she could document the process. Of course!

To add to the good news, it turns out Jennifer’s best friend Gloria knows her way around the Mara (where we think Tangawizi lives), and has a friend who knows the area and the language (Swahili.) Both women were touched by Lincoln’s quest, and believe God is building an incredible story between two little kids on different sides of the world.

So while the search may be difficult, we’ve got two willing participants. We’re excitedly working on some details with Jennifer and Gloria. We’ll update the progress of the travel plans as soon as possible. Stay tuned…

If you want to take part in the story, you can do so in a few ways: (1) follow the blog to see what will happen with Jennifer and Gloria’s journey to find Tangawizi. (Sign up via email in the “free words and music” field to the right); (2) donate to the fundraiser via PayPal @ morrow_nick@hotmail.com (all donations will go toward the bed + travel expenses + Tangawizi’s community); (3) Spread the word via email, social media, and good ol’ fashioned storytelling; (4) Send us any information that might be helpful in locating Tangawizi. We’ve spent a lot of our free time int he last week Googling, MapQuesting, and trying to gather info. But between our family, jobs, and school our free time is pretty limited. Any info helps. Plus, who doesn’t like to act like a stalker/fake Google private investigator?

DEAR CHRISTIAN WRITER, ARTIST, MUSICIAN, MOVIE MAKER, ETC,

On the account of being a writer, I have zero credibility or authority. But here are a few thoughts to Christian writers, from a Christian reader, to take or leave:

1. Write things no one else is willing to write. Don’t write safe stuff. The Christian market is littered w/safe stuff. Write without a safety net. (Or write as though God’s grace is your only safety net.)

boldness-Philippe-Petit

2. Write something that you would read yourself. If it doesn’t hold your attention when you go back and read, it’s not going to hold ours either. If it didn’t make you laugh, cry, hug somebody, throw up, or think when you wrote it…revise it. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Edit yourself mercilessly!”

3. Write like you talk. I was studying creative writing in college and struggling to find a “voice.” A pretty girl (who eventually became my pretty wife) told me, “I like hearing you tell stories. Why don’t you just write stories exactly like you would say them out loud?”

4. Resist the temptation to make all your characters Christians, or make all your characters become Christians by the end of the story. Real life isn’t so nice and neat. “Machine Gun Preacher” was probably a lot closer to a Biblical redemption story than most Christian films. I’m not saying you have to go out and write the Christian version of 50 Shades or anything. It’s just that Scripture is full of ordinary people doing all sorts of shady things, but God’s grace remains the common denominator. (And let’s be honest. A Christianized version of 50 Shades would probably sell loads of copies. Somebody get on that. Zondervan, you’re welcome.)

5. Don’t be the hero. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re all probably closer to villains anyway. Trust me, telling people how awesome you are (no matter how good the illustration) is always cringe-worthy. In one of his recent posts, Seth Godin encouraged people to communicate “Not (with) the arrogance of, ‘I am right and you are not,’ but from the confidence/certainty of, ‘I need to say it or draw it or present it just this way and I want you to hear it.’” Be passionate, honest, and transparent about your shortcomings, and the “converts” will take care of themselves.

6. Write from the gut. Go with your instincts. Lean into the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and don’t be scared to show us your dark parts that needed God’s forgiveness.

CS Lewis-17. Don’t believe the myth that nonChristian people don’t read Christian stuff because it involves Jesus. Too many authors and artists (Anne Lamott, CS Lewis, U2) have proven this isn’t true. In general, non-Christian people don’t get into Christian art/music/books because it’s not interesting. (When was the last time your non-Christian friend cranked up some K-LOVE jams?)

8. Don’t feel like you have to solve all our problems. I understand this temptation. Guys especially like launching into super fix-it mode and have answers for everything and everyone. Sometimes we just need to ask good questions, tell a good story, and start the conversation. Lectures have a tendency to end the conversation. Instead, consider giving us something to talk about for awhile.

These are just a few suggestions. What should be added to this list? What would you want to see more of from Christian writers, speakers, artists, etc?

ANTI ROCK STAR INTERVIEW #1: JAMIE BARNES of SOJOURN MUSIC

Last week I wrote a few thoughts about what it looks like to be an “anti rock star worship leader.” This week I’m excited to introduce you to Jamie Barnes from Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY. Jamie is the worship pastor for one of Sojourn’s four campuses, and writes extensively for Sojourn’s worship albums. Many of Sojourn’s artists and musicians are leading voices within the Louisville scene, including Jamie. Sojourn focuses on creativity and collaboration, blending the gospel with a relentless pursuit of innovative art and music.

jamie staring

I first met Jamie at a songwriting workshop given by the always-wise Bob Kauflin. We had a brief chat and Jamie humbly offered, “If there’s anything we can do to serve or help your church in Columbus, let me know.” In my interactions with Jamie, he’s been a great encouragement in creating quality music and leading the church in worshiping God.

I asked Jamie a few questions about what it looks like to be an anti rock star worship leader. Jamie shared a bit about his beginnings as a worship leader, discipling musicians, and how the gospel informs our worship. Here’s the whole interview:

Nick: You recorded & toured as a singer/songwriter way before you ever thought about leading worship. You’ve said that you were somewhat reluctant to start leading worship when worship pastor Mike Cosper first approached you. What was that transition like, and how is leading worship different from performing and touring? Practically, was there ever a tension for you between worshiping and performing?

Jamie: I was reluctant because of the background I came from, which was the brand of Church of Christ that worship with no instrumentation. I had only played music in clubs, theaters and various other venues – but never in church and I had no formed philosophy or theology on what it meant to lead a body of believers in corporate worship. The difference is very vast – because my goal isn’t too wow people with my art, it’s to clearly portray the truth of the gospel and help people participate. In clubs, I’m trying to bowl them over …envelop them. In the gatherings of the church, I want to invite them.

Fast forward 6 years later and I’ll still feel the weight of the tension of leading versus performing. I keep a constant reminder before me on what my overall goal is when I lead on Sundays, but there is still the civil war of the soul raging on within me of selfish ambitions. Thankfully, grace covers my sinful pride and our worship isn’t accepted by God based on our purity of intentions, but by the mediating blood of Jesus. Remembering the truth of the gospel always helps to get my heart aligned.

sojourn jammin

Jamie with the Sojourn band at the 930 Art Center

Nick: Sojourn has a pretty liturgical way of conducting church, and yet you guys are about as hip as churches come. The last time my wife and I attended a service at your Midtown campus (when it was still at the 930 Art Center), it was like a Holy Spirit rock & roll revival. How does the balance of liturgy and rock & roll inform the way Sojourn conducts worship services?

Jamie: Ha. The idea of hip is becoming increasingly strange to me as I get older! We like a sense of being rooted in church history, a traditional liturgy where the Gospel is central and formative, but we also want to remain true to who we are here in the present, while looking forward with hope to the future of who God has called us to be and is shaping us into.

The rock ‘n’ roll side of it is just us being true to who we are. This church was founded by a lot of artists and musicians who found a lot of our identity (for better or for worse) in the music we played and listened to. It’s just the voice of our context, not an attempt to be hip or be someone else. I’m sure our gatherings would look and sound different had Sojourn been planted in a different part of the commonwealth rather than in the artsy-fartsy part of Louisville.

Nick: You guys have a pretty intense focus on mentoring and discipleship at Sojourn. How does that affect the way the musicians look at themselves and other musicians?

Jamie: We try to do this, though sometimes we aren’t great at it. I think it helps artists/musicians see more of a role they can play than perhaps the church has historically allowed them to. Since the age of the Puritans, the Church at wide has had a love/hate affair with artist types and I know for my generation, it’s often hard for certain guys who think/dress/emote a certain way to think they may ever have anything to give to the local church other than filling in on guitar on the weekends.

We have a huge desire to raise up pastors…arming folks with guitars in one hand and shepherd staffs in the other. I don’t think we are being innovative with this, but rather just Biblical. We see a pattern in scripture of living life together, pouring into one another and helping each other grow in Christ.

Musicians aren’t exempt from that type of discipleship, in fact, I’ve seen them thrive. Instead of looking at our gifts in an individualistic way, this helps us think about the community at large and leveraging our gifts together as a family for the sake of those inside and outside the church. The musician is tempted to see his identity solely through the music he or she plays. We want to see our music servants embrace who they really are, adopted sons and daughters of the living God. This truth will influence their art, rather than the other way around.

Jamie leading worship at Sojourn Community Church

Jamie leading worship at Sojourn Community Church

Nick: How can congregations help to combat the “worship leader rock star” mentality?

Jamie: Prayer and keeping the Gospel central. Fight for God being the biggest personality of your gatherings. Sundays are not the time for musicians to shine – it’s a time to serve. We use the language of “servant” a lot when we talk about our gifts and the music team at our church. It’s a constant reminder that we are there for the sake of building the body of Christ, and not to sell records or build our band’s following.

I believe it was Michael Card who used the imagery in one of his books that musicians help “wash the feet” of the church with their gifts. This symbolism established by the service of our Savior is a great way to talk and think about our own ministry.

 

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