A guy named Tim Lambesis recently hired a hitman to kill his estranged wife. He paid the man a thousand dollars and promised another $19k once he’d confirmed his wife was dead. He gave the hit man specific times that his children would be alone with him, to be sure they were safe and that he had an alibi. When it turned out that the hitman was actually an undercover detective, Lambesis was arrested and sentenced to six years in prison.
This probably wouldn’t have made national news coverage, except that Lambesis was the lead singer for a popular “Christian” band.
Shortly before his trial, the singer gave an interview and explained how he and his bandmates had become atheists throughout their years of touring. In order to maintain record and concert ticket sales, the band decided to continue marketing themselves as “Christian.” In the interview, he shared openly about his struggle to be honest and the “cowardly” way he handled it. He talked about the Christian music scene and said “9 out of 10 ‘Christian’ bands we toured with weren’t actually Christians.” Lambesis’ cautionary tale reminded us of a gross reality within the Church:
You can totally fake it.
Actually, you can totally fake it and loads of people won’t even know that you’re faking it. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between who you really are and who you pretend to be on Sunday morning. And if Christian rock stars can get away with faking it, couldn’t worship leaders as well?
Last week, I shared a few self-deprecating stories about how I used to hate singing in church. Until about three years ago, I refused to sing on Sunday mornings and had a lot of opinions about how lame worship music was. Then I had an experience that changed the course of my life, as God revealed Himself to me in a way that significantly shifted my opinions about corporate worship.
The irony wasn’t lost on me. I was a guy who hated “worship music” with every fiber of my creative being. Now, three years later, I’m a worship pastor who asks people to sing every Sunday. Why the one-eighty? I was curious to explore the thought further, to see how my beliefs about communal worship have changed over the last few years. I was also really eager to make fun of myself some more and expose a few funny laughable skeletons from the closet of my past.
I thought maybe the best thing to do would be to interview my 25 year-old self.
Confession: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always hated singing in church. Some say “hate” is a strong word. I’d say it’s probably not strong enough.
Being a pastor’s son, I was always in the children’s choir. I didn’t want to be exposed as a fraud, but I didn’t want to sing either. So one of my middle school buddies taught me that if you just mouthed the word “watermelon” over and over, it would look like you’re actually singing real words. I don’t know if that actually worked or not. It probably looked ridiculous (“why are those two kids in the back row saying ‘watermelon’ instead of singing?”) But I did it anyway and escaped having to learn the words and sing along.
When I was a kid I used to go and spend time with my grandma in the summer. Every Sunday she’d haul me to church with her. And because I never wanted to join Sunday school with a bunch of kids I didn’t know, she’d let me sit through “big people church” beside her.
The first church I remember her taking me to was an old traditional Methodist church. With all the stained glass and the built-in pipe organ and the semi-gothic architecture, I remember feeling like I was in a castle. But that was where my excitement ended. The rest of the time I was confused by when I should be standing or sitting, and why the guy up front was wearing robes, and why everyone was reciting Scriptures together like a chorus of elderly monotone robots.
If I have to listen to the “Frozen” soundtrack one more time, I might stab my eardrums with giant icicles.
It’s my daughter’s fault. That little girl is wearing me out.
Every time we get in the car, she is slowly but surely wrecking my well-manicured Spotify account. “Because you listened to the Frozen soundtrack twenty-three trillion times,” Spotify tells me, “you might also like music from the Veggie Tales, Thomas & Friends, and Caspar Babypants.”
It blows my mind that my two year-old daughter can memorize the lyrics to all those “Frozen” songs in the first place. It also blows my mind how much she wants to build a snowman. But no matter how much I try to sell her on the finer points of The Beatles or Wilco or Arcade Fire, I still hear the same request from that little voice in the backseat: “Fwozen music!”
There’s an interesting thing I’ve observed in my children. They engage with music differently than I do. Like a quality wine or dessert, I like to savor good music. I only listen to my favorite album once a year. No joke. And if I find a new jam, I’ll wear it out for a few days then throw it on my “favorites” list and forget about it. But my kids are different. They can sing the same song over and over and never get sick of it.
I never made a connection between all this and leading worship until recently, when a boy in our congregation approached me after church.
Confession: Of all the songs we sing at my church, I like about five of them.
Meaning, actually like them. Meaning, they’re songs I might listen to outside the four walls of my church.
No doubt this will come as a surprise to a lot of my church-mates and friends, who see me on stage as a volunteer worship leader. Let me explain.
Several years ago I was talking with a buddy, and somehow we got on the topic of heaven. I still remember his musings.
“I know we have to, like, praise God all day long and everything. But I wonder if after that I can do some cool stuff too, like turn into Spiderman and swing from buildings! I just can’t see myself singing to God for all that time…”
Outwardly, I laughed, and said something how it will probably be a bit more exciting than that. But inwardly, I echoed his sentiments. The fact that the Bible was exploding with references to “praising God” was always a little annoying to me. I never saw what the big deal was. I hardly liked any church music, so singing it forever sounded more like a punishment than a reward.
Some friends of mine at Lift Records have released a benefit compilation for “Safe Water in Guyana.” My recording of “Blessed Assurance” was featured on the album, which is now available via iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.
I hope you’ll consider purchasing the album and spreading the word. Clean drinking water is a luxury that most of us North Americans take for granted, while much of the third world suffers from contaminated water that spreads disease and sickness. May we be reminded of our fortune as we pour ourselves a glass of water from the faucet.
There are several ways you can help. The first step is to check out the music. You can write (honest) reviews on iTunes and Amazon. If you dig the music, share it with others who might like it. You can also call your local Christian radio station and request “Blessed Assurance,” as radio promotion is still a key way listeners hear about new music.
You can learn more about Safe Water in Guyana directly on their website.
I used to hate the idea of using formulas within the realm of songwriting and creativity. Then I realized all my favorite songwriters used some sort of process. Turns out a little structure was nothing to be scared of.
You can read the entire article here. Feel free to post comments about your own songwriting process below or at either of the two blogs. Big thanks to Wisdom (at All About Worship) and Ira (songwriting.net) for giving me the chance to share about one of my favorite subjects.
Over the last several months I’ve been (not so) secretly demo-ing songs for a gospel album I’m hoping to release once I’m finished with school. Part of the beauty in releasing the demos has been the feedback I’ve received. It helps to know what songs people do or don’t like before you go to release an album!
Would you help me with that process by telling me…which version of “It Is Well…” do you prefer? The first version (solo with ukulele) or the second (full band version with the Mister Rogers Neighborhood bell set)? Just vote via the poll below, or feel free to leave feedback in the comments section.