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.
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.
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… “
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
7. Don’t believe the myth that non–Christian 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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
A couple years ago a friend sent me a text. He’d just seen a Christmas display with a Santa Claus bowing down to baby Jesus. He isn’t a Christian, but he was offended. He texted a slew of profanities about how sacrilegious the scene was, and we had a good laugh. Santa bowing to Jesus?! How far are people going to take it? What’s next, Ralphie bringing baby Jesus a BB gun? Mariah Carey as the Virgin Mary? Tim Allen, Chevy Chase, and Will Ferrell as the three wise men?
Well, it turns out the scene isn’t so sacrilegious after all. It turns out Santa was actually a Christian. Not just a Christian, but he was like a super star Christian. He fasted two times a week, according to church history. Many say that miraculous things happened in response to Santa’s prayers. He was also well-known as a “secret gift-giver,” which is where his legend began.
Santa even served on the Council of Nicaea, where the orthodox doctrines of the Christian church were founded. Allegedly Santa got really mad at another bishop for proposing that Jesus wasn’t God. So mad that he smacked him across the face!
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t “Santa” pimp-slapping bishops, but you get where I’m going with this. Last year I asked my Facebook friends if it was ethical to tell your kids Santa is real. If you ever want to start up a really controversial Facebook post, don’t talk about politics or religion. Go straight for the throat and talk about Santa. You will not believe how fired up people get about Santa being real, and how important it is for kids to believe it.
Well, yes and no. Santa was real. Saint Nicholas of Myra is a revered saint of the Christian tradition. He lived a highly respectable life and died on December 6th, 343 A.D. He did give gifts a lot, and he was incredibly noble, and he did bow to Jesus. I have no idea where the elves and reindeer came from. Maybe someone was telling their kids the story of Saint Nicholas and started geeking out on Lord of the Rings?
The tradition of Saint Nicholas bears repeating through our stories and through our gift-giving. The modern day version of Santa gets a little distorted compared to the real man, but I hope my kids will come to know and imitate the real Santa. Mark Driscoll recently wrote a great article about what he tells his kids about Santa. He encourages Christian parents to “redeem Santa” and not to freak out too much if culture distorts the story a bit (or a lot.)
Keep the “Christ” in Christmas? Definitely. While we’re at it, let’s keep Saint Nick in there too.