When I turn on my radio, it strikes me every time, how similar are all my stations. Some christian songs sound like a boyfriend/girlfriend situation and some secular songs sound spiritual and worshipful, which gets me thinking…

There is, and has been for decades, a split, a disunion, within the church body over how contemporary to make our worship services. With both conservative and liberal camps firmly planted with scripture for tie-downs, the battle rages on with no end in sight and often, no God either. Yes, it’s very possible to argue with scripture while abandoning God. If you’ve ever seen a bible-shaking, sandwich-sign-wearing, scream-at-everyone-who-passes-by preacher…then you know what I’m talking about.

Prepare to have a heart attack, get the aspirin ready, and take a seat.

Scripture is not enough.

Put the pitchfork down, stow your torches, and bear with me. Scripture is essential, but it can not replace God. Our problem is that most Christians can’t differentiate reading the bible from having a relationship with God. Some people have challenged lives and never learned to read. Some languages have yet to receive a bible translation. Are these now made incapable of a relationship with Christ? Is the entirety of the identity, wisdom, and heart of God really encased in a book shorter than most novel series?

Knowing the bible, even memorizing every word, could not make you a follower of Jesus.

Richard Dawkins is a very brilliant man who knows more about the bible, Jesus, and the history than almost any christian I know, including some pastors. He is also a renown atheist and anti-religion activist, especially Christianity. He uses scripture to contest Christianity. He uses scripture to fight God, and when we stand and use scriptures to argue over something so stupid as a stylistic preference, we too are using scripture to fight God.

Anyone who brings about a disunion, based in a personal preference, is missing something.

Jesus’ greatest wish was to leave a holy and unified people. Anyone who picks out and uses scripture to support their personal preference is missing something. When there is a disconnect and scripture supports both sides, we are missing something. That something is the spirit of God, who guides and gives us wisdom beyond simple text, and who is often brushed aside for the comforts of the tangible words.

When you can’t sing a song

English: Description: A typical Sunday morning...

English: Description: A typical Sunday morning worship time in the main venue, Building A Photographer: David Ball Date: July 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Singing is something almost everyone likes, whether they’re any good or not. Churches use music and lyrics (coincidentally also the name of a great movie) to encourage people to connect on an emotional level. It brings people together, when they sing, and it is a way for us to worship our god.

But many of us run into a problem every once in a while. After a line or two, we realize…

“I can not sing this song.”

Either you can’t hit some notes or you don’t know the words. Either way, you’ve only got two options.

1. Sing Anyways

Obviously if you don’t know the words, you have to take option 2. However, this is the preferred course of action, from a worship leaders perspective. There’s something awesome about hearing a large group of people singing out of key. Trust me, no matter how bad you think it sounds. It has always sounded awesome from where I’m standing, and it sounds awesome from where God is standing.

2. Don’t Sing

If you really don’t feel comfortable singing, then don’t. Nobody can force you, and nobody will try. But, You can still do something, though you’re not singing. The songs a church sings reflect something spiritual, something life changing, something awesome. Take it in. In fact, I would urge you to rest your voice for a song next time you’re in church. Think about what the artist was going through when the lyrics were crafted. What parts of scripture did the inspiration and the message come from? What is the song supposed to be saying all together?

Usually a song will have distinct parts; verses, chorus, and some parts for transition or elaborating on some aspect. These all tie together and usually each have their own little statement that work together to give you a picture of what the artist sees in their life or the world around them.

Take something from the time and effort put in to crafting that music,

even if you can’t sing along.

Heart of Worship: The Journey

You can not be living a life of worship if you are not in motion. God’s work never stops moving, never stops teaching, and doesn’t have to wait for anything, and neither do you. There is a situation right now in every life where God’s work can be done, his truth can be shared. Worship is the obedience to do that work so that a window would open for the world to see a little piece of God.

All over the scriptures, there are references to this word “worship.” Look up the definition, there are an incredible number of interpretations and even whole commentaries dealing with the question; what is worship?

Many times, a search will come up with what must be the most nebulous verse,

John 4:24

ESV God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Sounds great! What does it mean? Ask any number of religious people and you’ll probably get as many answers.  Fortunately there are some other verses that can at least guide our understanding of this passage.

Romans 12:1

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

There we have it, at least a direction to steer our minds.

Part 1 of 2, to worship in spirit is at least to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. In short, a living sacrifice is one that stays on the altar being offered to God. It wouldn’t be a sacrifice if it was running away. God isn’t going to literally consume us with fire like the sacrifices in the Old Testament, but as a metaphor, the meaning is clear. Be there for God to use. It’s important to see that a sacrifice is not traditionally something that you could get back. It gets consumed, by fire. So we, as living sacrifices, should not consider any other option than the full service of God to be a real sacrifice.

This brings us to part 2, truth.

The meaning of this part of the verse has been so misunderstood that it actually changes wording between translations. It seems to me that to be a sacrifice in truth, you have to get on the altar and stay there, being consumed by the work of God. If you walk away, you were not a true sacrifice.

That last sentence stings a little. Every day, situations arise where I ‘walk off the altar’ and say ‘sorry God, I know what you want, but I don;t see this happening right now.”

BUT, God knew we would be this way, so he gave us another scripture to guide us.

Romans 3:23-24

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, And all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

In short, Worship must be in spirit, as a living sacrifice to God so that we are his to use. We, however, are imperfect and we sometimes walk away. But, God knew this and made a plan before we knew him that we would have the chance to return to the altar and mount up. Worship will always be a journey, a process of walking away and finding redemption. Doing the work of God will bring us to difficult places that we don’t think we can handle. We will get there and sometimes make mistakes, but as we continue anyways, “by the mercies of God” offering ourselves again, we will continually grow until our time is up. If you ever stop making mistakes, you have walked off the altar. Get back on and continue the journey.

10 pet peeves about worship leaders

I found this today while I was thinking about our worship arts team and I thought I would share it. I thought it was very interesting that none of the pet-peeves listed had anything to do with instrumentation, tempo, or new-ness of a song.

(Reblogged from churchrelevance.com)

In 2008, Carlos Whittaker of Buckhead Church (Atlanta, GA) blogged the dangerous question:

What is the biggest gripe you have about something a Sunday worship leader does?

The 185+ responses were fascinating, insightful, and offensive to some. To cut through the clutter of all of the opinions, here’s a very rough tally of all the pet peeves to determine the top 10 pet peeves about worship leaders. Keep in mind these are subjective opinions from 100+ people.

Top 10 Pet Peeves About Worship Leaders (with examples)

  1. Asking the Congregation to do Something (21 responses)
    >> Makes us shake hands with the people around us.
    >> When a worship leader tells you to lift up your hands, it takes a meaningful personal action and turns it into a obligatory command.
    >> Talks like they’re at a high school pep rally, “Let me hear ya!”
    >> Asks how everyone is doing. We’re not at a concert, so we’re not going to scream.
    >> Tells you what to do and how to worship… to the point where it makes you feel guilty if you don’t conform yourself to her/his understanding of what worship is.
    >> I hate it when worship leaders script the worship too much by telling people what to do. I’ve had worship leaders completely distract me from God when they start telling me what to do.
  2. Mini-Sermons & Talking (20 responses)
    >> Talks between every song.
    >> I am distracted when worship leaders start talking about anything that is not directions on what we are about to do.
    >> When they repeat the same catch-phrases every week.
    >> Breathy speaking between songs.
    >> Sermonettes are annoying if too long or common
    >> You can tell a mile away when a worship leader is “sharing” because he feels obligated to. It’s always a cheesy or over emotional blurb. When God’s really laid something on a worship leader’s heart, it’s cool. But even then, say it in less than 45 seconds! Don’t meander on for 3 minutes.
  3. Not Focusing on God (17 responses)
    >> Forget that the audience of worship is God and start making it a performance for those sitting in front of them.
    >> When they perform rather than worship themselves.
    >> Showing zero emotion, standing still, focusing too much on perfection.
    >> Worship leaders who seem really wrapped up in being “cool.”
    >> Sometimes you can tell they’re being fake and/or showy.
    >> I hate it when the music guy/gal asks the crowd to praise God but soaks it up like they are Bono and the crowd is really praising them.
    >> I hate it when worship leaders don’t lead people.
  4. Unprofessional (14 responses)
    >> Starts service late.
    >> Typos on the screen.
    >> Talks to the praise band while leading worship instead of using hand signals to tell them what to do.
    >> When the leader changes the key of the song and does not tell the rest of the team.
    >> Goes out of order or adds another song in the middle of the set
    >> When the leader and/or band member turns away from the people to mess with their gear.
    >> When the production team on stage are laughing, joking, and gesturing behind the worship leader to the soundboard guys in the transition between worship and the message.
  5. Singing (11 responses)
    >> Can’t sing very well.
    >> Doesn’t know the lyrics.
    >> When worship leaders run words together.
    >> When they put their own little spin on simple, common words.
    >> Repeating the same line in a song 3.6 million times. There’s the Spirit’s leading and then there’s just plain losing people.
    >> Our old church’s leader would sing so high that no one could sing along. She provided no harmony for us to pick up. It was to showcase her own voice.
  6. Appearance (9 responses)
    >> Sing with their eyes closed.
    >> When singers act like they are really bored up there.
    >> Wears crotch hugging jeans.
    >> Looks or sounds seductive.
    >> One of our young worship leaders had a really big hicky on his neck a couple of weeks ago.
  7. Prayer (8 responses)
    >> Inauthentic prayer – too scripted or so random that it doesn’t make sense, or rushed/dragged out to make the prayer fit the interlude.
    >> Prays the words of the songs.
    >> When they can’t talk or pray appropriately between songs.
  8. Bad Transitions (5 responses)
    >> Transitions between songs take long time.
    >> Allows uncomfortable dead time between songs.
    >> When they pray essentially the same prayer at a transition moment.
    >> Using the song name as an introduction/transition – “You know I was thinking about how much God has done for me…it really is ‘Amazing Grace’ isn’t it?”
  9. Lifestyle (4 responses)
    >> When he’s obviously ungodly during practice and throughout life, but turns into a saint on Sunday morning.
    >> I hate to see a person who is suppose to be leading worship acting like a jerk before service and then getting up on stage acting like nothing ever happened.
    >> As a Pastor, I hate it when the music guy/gal is lazy apart from their 30 minute set on Sundays.
  10. Catering to the Congregation (4 responses)
    >> When they hold back because they are obviously conscious of what the congregation and/or pastor will think.
    >> I hate it when worship leaders/pastors play to people who think the worship somehow revolves around what they like and what makes them feel good when it has absolutely nothing to do with our preferences or likes.
    >> Has to risk being a cheerleader because the people that claim to love God exhibit no sense of joy when singing about Him.

Some of the pet peeves also have supporters. For instance, many people find it important to ask the congregation to raise their hands or shake hands with others. Ultimately, what matters most is that the worship leader is a Christlike example that can lead people’s focus into intimate worship with God. I like the quote that one commenter referenced:

Leading worship is the art of removing distractions.

For Discussion:
What tips do you have for creating an effective worship experience?

We worship together

Lately I have been looking around online and asking other worship leaders how they plan their time of music and other aspects of their ministry as worship leaders. I want to distill the essence of what it means to worship together. It’s the together part I get hung up on. In the list of values or attributes for our worship team, this is number 2…(not listed by importance)

2. Everything we do will be to the benefit of all members of the worship experience.

Today’s worship leaders have an insane amount of cheap technology to put on concerts with. A cool new LED stage light, effect pedal, fog, cool clothes, video loops, all can be had for about a hundred bucks. You could walk into most churches and see these things making a great atmosphere that pulls you from your daily life and makes you forget your troubles. All you think about is the music and the emotion.

That is a great list of tools. The common complaint against the modern church is what they do with those tools. A lot of the time, it ends with a concert. As Christians, we need a time dedicated to abandoning our troubles and just thinking about and feeling the presence of our God. A concert setting can be a great place for that to take place! It’s a great toolbox, but in itself, it is nothing more.

For me to feel like we led a successful worshipful experience, there has to be corporate involvement. The congregation had to be involved in it, not just subject to it. I have been through both settings and i know the difference between God’s presence and cool lights. I will like music more with lights and smoke, it’s just who I am, but that won’t bring me to my knees or lift my hands or make me sing notes I could never dream to hit right. The only thing capable of that is God himself.

When I sing and look around me seeing others engage, seeming to forget there are other people around them, lifting their hands, or falling to the ground, or just the look on their faces…that is what sets me free. The spirit of God moves people through people. A room full of smoke and lights could never do that.

It’s hard to put a fine point on this concept, but this has been my shot. It’s my job, what God has called me to do, to lead his people into his presence, and every change I make will have that intent. Lights, effects, smoke, and new songs are all cool but only if they help us come together *into God’s presence.

The more we do this, the easier it is to do. So, I want it to be as easy as possible for people to do this every week, and I will use anything God provides to do it.

*(on a side note, it is us who come into the presence of God because it is us who run away. I get annoyed when leaders ask God to come…He is always there, we just need help feeling it sometimes.)


1. Our worship will NEVER be performance focussed.

Step into any large church and you will see they look like they could all host a decent rock concert. Well, they can, and probably do on a weekly basis. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a dangerous thing.

I’ve spent some time thinking and talking with family and friends (fellow believers) to figure out, at what point does our music/performance/style become a hindrance to the congregation? There isn’t an answer like “after 4 weeks of…” but I think I can convince you to agree with my general premise and why I’ve made my number 1 guideline hinge on this question.

Everything we do as a church should be based in scripture.

                                 Lets dive in to some scripture.

“…be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

                                                             ~Ephesians 5:19-20

                                 Another variation from Colossians…

16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

                                                             ~Colossians 3:16,17

24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

                                                             ~John 4:24


From these scriptures I see a congregation singing together to God for His glory in response to the effect He has on their lives and the joy in their hearts because of Him. As long as the people of God are doing that, the style or speed or lights or fog or volume are irrelevant. I haven’t read anywhere that Jesus said “thou shalt not exceedeth 85 decibels.” On the flip side, I haven’t read anywhere that he said we need big flashy lights, stages, or smoke machines…(although if you count incense…)

I am a fan of the cool technology we have today, but it is a tool, and as soon as we start trying to put on a concert, we have stopped using our hearts. We can create awe inspiring spaces and decorations and enveloping sounds but if I think “what will keep them interested? What will entertain them?” Then I have stopped asking “what will entertain God?”

Sometimes the lights and effort it takes to put on a modern concert can be a symbol of dedication in doing our best to show the world and God the lengths we are willing to go to broadcast our gratitude and our heart for Him. Sadly, we don’t take that to market most of the time.

I could write on this for hours, and maybe I should write a small book, but for you, I will cut ot the chase.

My point is, If we are worshiping with music to express what God has done to our hearts and lives then it doesn’t matter the style or tools we use. It only becomes a problem when we care more about having a good time or entertaining a crowd.


The How, What, and Why of Worship at OneLife

The How, What, and Why of Worship (summary)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom,singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”   Colossians 3:16

What is worship?

How do we worship?

I’m willing to wager that those two questions are among the top most controversial topics church leaders can “discuss.” That said, I’m not afraid to tell you my answers and give my opinion. Why? As the worship leader of a growing part of God’s kingdom, I need this as a sort of mission statement. Mission statements are important! There’s a reason churches, businesses, clubs, and even small groups ALL have them. They give us direction and a standard for which to compare future strategies. I’ve spent considerable time in reflection, reading, and prayer to bring to light this worship philosophy. It’s not exactly a traditional “mission statement” but it’s what I believe God wants to use as a set of standards for the future of worship ministry at OneLife Church.

What follows is a summary of my philosophy of worship (the “How, What, and Why of Worship at OneLife.”)

  1. Our worship will NEVER be performance focused.
  2. Everything we do will be to the benefit of all members of the worship experience.
  3. Every member of our leading team will be of sound moral character as fits a follower of Christ.
  4. Every member of our leading team will be part of a small group.
  5. OneLife worship team will strive to support the vision God has provided to the leadership of the church.

Each of these points is directly tied to how and why we worship.

“That’s interesting, but…”

There is a fair amount of controversy hidden in those 5 simple requirements, I realize. For example, I’m sure to hear “but without a good performance, it’s just distracting!” This is very true and believe me I’ve thought of it. It’s not that I don’t want your comments, in fact, I do want them…badly! Feedback is the best way for me to make sure what I’m doing is what’s best for you. Don’t harass me, but please make some comments, either here, or on Facebook, or personally.

To be Continued…

This is not where the story ends. I will explain my thoughts and reasoning behind each one of those points. To keep this short, I condensed, but there will be posts to follow explaining why I have chosen each of those, and maybe why I’ve rejected other popular positions. For now, please stay tuned and be patient over then next week or so as I prepare those articles.

Also, I’ll explain why Colossians 3:16 (above) is what I consider the best verse to describe what our worship should look like.

Worship Philosophy Intro

I realize it’s been a little while since i posted, sorry about that. I’ve just been trying to give more thought to this series of posts on why I worship the way I do. I started working on my philosophy when Jeff let me know about the church plant. It has proven to be very difficult. As a musician it is hard to balance what I feel like doing and what I know would be the best for you, the congregation I’m responsible for leading. Expect to see a short series of posts pop up shortly. I’ve been working on them for a few weeks so i hope you read them! in the mean time I’ve asked a couple other members of the worship team to post, so this blog is about to get a little more lively!

Why I Still Do This

I have been a worship leader in some capacity since I was a freshman in high school. When I think back to when it all started, I can honestly say that I have no idea why it happened. Sometimes we can look to our past and trace events as a way to explain our current condition. This is not true at all of me. People have asked my story and I never really have a good answer for them, or at least not one that’s exciting whatsoever. I don’t know if I will ever be able to trace the events like a connect-the-dots game, but it’s never really mattered to me. What does matter is showing how God has taken an unlikely situation and used extraordinary people to impact a life like mine. THEY have allowed me to follow this path HE has asked me to walk, I was just an innocent bystander. The story of my journey from the beginning until today is really a story of them. It started with a trip to Idaho…

After 8th grade I was given the opportunity to hitch a ride with some old family friends to stay the summer in Texas. If you know me, you’ve heard about this time in my life. On the way, they wanted to stop off in Idaho to visit some of their friends, people I had never met or even heard of before this. They were the Alexanders. I don’t remember anyone’s name from that family except the father, Jim, Jim Alexander. We stayed with them for two nights. It was a great time and they were very welcoming and friendly. We stayed up incredibly late laughing and being introduced to new styles of music and games. I remember specifically, I had never heard of Josh Groban or Switchfoot before then. One of these nights, Jim brought out an old but nice, slightly dusty classical guitar, and we had a great time singing and learning new songs. They were the bouncy worship songs, like what Kevin Morning does, except played and sung by a guy who clearly belongs in Idaho. Don’t get me wrong, this guy is amazing, that’s just the image you need to understand. Anyways, I mentioned that it would be really cool if I knew how to play guitar like that. I had never even touched one before. He left the room, and when he came back he had another guitar, and he handed it to me and began teaching me, A…D…G…C. I sounded terrible of course but he was encouraging and I practiced with him for a couple hours before going to bed. The next day, I woke up, and he had left for work, and I was about to leave for texas. Next to the couch I was sleeping on, in the downstairs room, was an old beat up guitar case. It had a note on it. That note, written by that man is the reason I never gave up practicing, and teaching myself how to play and sing. He told me that when we were practicing he could tell that I needed to have a guitar and I needed to play music and he felt God was asking him to give me the chance, so he gave me his old guitar. In his note, he explained how I was going to become a worship leader and God would use me if I had the patience and diligence to do what I needed to. I couldn’t believe tha amount of faith this guy had in me, a 14 year old boy who never really sang or played the guitar before. My parents have always had faith in me, and they have encouraged me, but to have so much faith, sacrificial faith, from a man I had known less than 48 hours…that was something I could not let go of.


Today, I enjoy compliments as much as anyone else, but they make me uncomfortable as well. See, if it wasn’t for Jim and the opportunities presented along the way, I wouldn’t be a worship leader. I probably wouldn’t be musical at all. So when someone tells me I did a good job or they really enjoyed a song, I have a hard time accepting that recognition because I have sacrificed almost nothing to be where I am. It was those other guy who took a leap of faith and launched me in this direction. I love and respect and am grateful for everything that has happened along the way and I want you to know what they did for me, and if you appreciate me, then what they did for you.

I recently got a wall post on Facebook from the Nevins that got me thinking about this…

Hey Joel…I just want you to know what an impact you have on One Life Church but especially on the life of my Zander. He was going to bed on Sunday night and had “Creator King” on his mind and was trying to sing it. It took me a minute to figure it out because he calls it “children of God” but when I did we sang it together. He said he wanted it on his iPod and I told him that I have it and will put it on there. Yesterday he wanted to listen to it so I played it for him. He said he likes how you sing it better! He loves to hear you lead worship! I didn’t think that he was paying too much attention but apparently he is. Thank you for sharing your heart through worship every Sunday! You are appreciated!

Whenever I get comments like these I thank God for sending Jim to get me started.

OneLife success!

Today at 12:30 pm, the setup team and band arrived at Fairvale Baptist Church to set up for our very first OneLife Sunday service! At 2 o’clock we hit the ground running and opened with our first song. The band was together, and the people of OneLife were worshiping together for the first time. From the stage I could hear everyone singing along and I could see peoples hands raised or lowered heads to pray or read our music printout. (don’t worry, we’re getting screens!) As I looked back to Matt, the sound guy, I thought that when I get home (and after a good meal) I would write a post giving due credit to guys like him who sit in the back and make this all possible. So thanks to Matt for understanding and running the sound for us. Lots of sound techs would run at the notion of balancing a soundboard on a rubbermaid container, but not Matt. And the band, you get seen but generally people have no clue how flexible you guys are with having to use unfamiliar equipment and plans changing constantly and no monitors! You guys are awesome. Thanks to Megan and Kelsey for helping out with backup vocals. Thanks to Tom for designing our user friendly website, and I know the church plant team has spent many night up together or individually, losing sleep over all the details to be worked out. And finally, thank you people of OneLife, you’re paying for everything 😛

Here’s a pic of Jeff working hard last night so that we can fit the drums on stage today.