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’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.