The Brothers McClurg will be joining us at NWLC CA next week!
Plus, there’s still time to register online! You have until Thursday at noon. Walk-ins still welcome.
Planning Worship in the Real World
By Stefanie Kelly
(This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue of Worship Leader magazine)
It was Saturday morning, before dawn, when I woke up to the sound of my cat coughing up what was apparently a very large fur ball. As I stumbled out of bed, hoping to conquer the inevitable stain before it set in, I turned on the lights—or rather—the dark. The power was out, and each second, critical to the longevity of our 30-year-old carpet, was quickly vanishing. To compound the situation, I had a radio interview in a little over an hour and had neither lights nor a functional flat iron to tame the bed head that was a result of my fighting the war on terror in my sleep.
I’ve felt that way a time or two on a Sunday morning—overwhelmed and frazzled when I had not adequately prepared for our services. The moments I’ve rested on my own laurels risked creating what I call a “man-made worship experience,” far less than what God desires. Mercifully, the Lord still blesses, but it is so much sweeter, redemptive, and transformational when I have taken just a few extra steps to be prepared for his presence.
Here are five questions I ask myself when I plan our worship set:
1. Am I connected to the Lord through prayer?
As one who helps the church experience God through music, it is critical that the worship artist is intimately connected with the creator. Because song selection is so important, much of my time is spent seeking God about which songs will speak personally to our congregation. Not too long ago, I attended a wedding where Richard, one of our youth leaders who was struggling with cancer, sang the most touching rendition of MercyMe’s, “I Can Only Imagine.” I had been restless all week about our offering song but it was that Saturday—in the final hour—that the Lord spoke. We revamped our set; Richard sang the offering, and that Sunday our congregation joined this precious believer in his fight against cancer. Today Richard is cancer free.
2. Am I connected to my congregation?
I am used to leading for multicultural churches, so I study everything: from the ii-Vs of jazz to Michael Jackson grooves, to Bach inspired harmonic movements. What fun to incorporate these techniques into our worship—sometimes all in the same song!
From the homeless to the wealthy, the former stripper to the Bible study leader, or the drug addict to the physician, I must read the souls of our congregation and interpret spiritual thirst in a musical way. Since some are reached by rock sounds, others by hip hop, Latin-jazz, or gospel, being a lifelong learner of a wide palette of musical styles brings credibility to your ministry and trust within your congregation. In this way, we modern-day Levites can be “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:19), like the Apostle Paul.
3. Am I well connected to our musicians?
I sure hope so since the worship artist is also a mentor, a teacher, and a coach. To know our artists’ hearts promotes mutual respect and commitment, glorifying God and blessing us all along the journey. Being familiar with the skill level of our musicians enables us to play to their strengths. Staying close to our volunteers helps me put like-minded players together in settings where we can all be confident and at ease. I never made it at as a cheerleader in high school, though I incessantly tried, but now I cheer for our musical team as their advocate and biggest fan!
4. Am I connecting with excellence?
One of my favorite verses is Psalm 33:3, which says, “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy” (NIV, emphasis added). Like our Father gave us his best in Jesus, I am inspired to give my best offering of worship to him. This is where the creativity makes its grand entrance. At the Rock we are blessed with volunteer string players who play for the local symphonies, so, often we will feature a hybrid of live strings with a DJ and a rhythm section. If your church only has a violin player, start small and write parts that are simple yet beautiful. Other musicians will be drawn in because there is a significant place for their art, and soon you’ll have your own symphony. (In the meantime, study up on your arranging chops and encourage your musicians to “woodshed”!)
5. Am I connecting our worshipers to an accessible encounter with God?
My first rule of thumb in making this final connection is that I am always mindful of the melody. No matter how far I take my arranging liberties, the melody is never compromised. With original tunes, I make sure my melodies and lyrics are in harmony so our people don’t have to guess at the phrasing. In addition, the flow of the service should make sense and be well rehearsed. Usually five last-minute prayers before five songs is a giveaway that I am scrambling to fill up dead space. On the other hand, deliberate testimonies with heartfelt prayers may give the drummer time to start the click or allow the guitarist to change instruments, all while leading the worshiper into a meaningful place of contemplation and reflection.
Finally, let us connect the dots: preparedness as a worship artist begins by anchoring ourselves in a relationship with the Lord, listening for his voice. The music will follow; our congregations will worship. Oh, and about the fur ball, you ask? Well—after a few bumps in the dark, the dawn broke and the stain was lifted. Joy eventually came that morning. Hmm … sounds a lot like a song to me.
From Pakistan to Kansas
Shehrazer Dawood and Azeem Moon Journey to NWLC
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.
– Revelation 7:9
The National Worship Leader Conference (NWLC) has actually always been an international conference, with worship leaders coming from around the globe, making the enormous effort to come and trusting God for all of the details. Sometimes that takes a lot of faith, especially if you’re from a country where the US is in a current diplomatic stalemate, such as Pakistan. But, in spite of all the potential roadblocks, this year we had our first visitors from Pakistan, brothersShehrazer Dawood and Azeem Moon. These gracious and amazing brothers even brought those of us on the conference team a personally designed NWLC T-shirt. [THANKS!]
Their journey toward NWLC actually began in 1994 when an uncle from Sweden came for a visit to his family in Pakistan. He was a Christian and wanted to attend “a fiery church, not a dead one” So Shehrazer who was only 15 at the time accompanied his uncle to church. “I enjoyed it. I saw worship and fire.” Shehrazer promptly joined the choir and as he saw God at work in the congregation, he decided to be baptized. He still remembers the day, May 24, 1994. His older brother Azeem, initially wanted nothing to do with church, but after his wife began going and asking him each Sunday to accompany her, he finally relented and reluctantly went along. He continued to come back and after six Sundays he said “I felt the presence of God.” He continues, “My wife was converted before me. I said ‘I’ll wait and see.’ It took two years. And after those two years I was not myself. Before that, I did every bad thing: drank smoked, fought, hit [those in] my family. I have four sisters and two brothers. The whole family was saved…father, mother—everyone. A fire came into our house and went through our house.”
The two brothers are actively involved in ministry, Shehrazer as a worship leader and Azeem as an evangelist. They are also a worship songwriting team with Azeem writing words and Shehrazer writing music. In addition to their church community responsibilities, they are principals of a girls’ school and a boys’ school respectively.
Just before Palm Sunday of 2012, Texas-based Sherman Aten who with his family are fulltime artists/musicians that minister in the US and abroad, traveled to Phool Negar and a conference/crusade where he met both Azeem and Shehrazer [the brothers often organize crusades, which draw 8000-16,000 people]. Aten recounts the circumstances.
In March of 2012, I along with 4 other Texans traveled to Lahore, Pakistan to lead an evangelistic mission event that was organized by the two brothers, Azeem Moon & Shehrazer Dawood of Lahore. Our experience with the Christians in Pakistan was overwhelming. And what we saw God do in the outdoor meetings nightly was indescribable. Only God knows the hearts that were changed, because in a crowd of 16,000 people, who can really count the decisions for Christ!
After Sherman left, the brothers, Shehrazer and Azeem followed him on his website/blog and noticed that he was going to be attending the NWLC in Kansas and they knew immediately they wanted to go. They were supposed to go.
This presented a few challenges:
The brothers found that to even be considered for a visa, they would need an invitation. So they contacted Sherman and asked him if he would invite them to go to the National Worship Leader Conference, He not only did that but offered to host them and take care of the conference and hotel expenses, while they had to furnish the money for travel and other expenses. Aten is an NWLC Alumni and comes back from year to year. Of course Sherman is an important part of the story of bringing Shehrazer and Azeem to Kansas.
My relationship with NWLC started 3 years ago as our family attended the KC conference for the first time. We have an itinerant worship music ministry based in Texas that has been operating for 21 years, known simply as the Aten Family. The NWLC has always been an inspiration through practical teaching & spiritual growth for us. We are on the road about 35 weeks a year in different churches & arenas as well as working in foreign fields as Pakistan and getting fed from those who do what we do is a crucial part of keeping us useful. God used the NWLC to get Azeem and Shehrazer here even though they really had no clue what they were about to experience
Sherman comments, “for a Pakistani to get a US Visa, is like the sky, it usually takes one year to investigate,” Azeem chimes in, “After we applied, we had a Visa in one week” They all agree, “It was a miracle.” They used their vacation time and pay from school and then ask friends and family to help. Which goes to show you if God wants you someplace and you’re willing, he’ll move heaven and earth to get you there.
Shehrazer was amazed by the array of instruments at NWLC. He says, “I lead playing harmonium, a pump organ, and singing. We only have a harmonium and tabla (two drum set).” The congregation sings Pakistani songs in Urdu, but they do have a few classic imports from the US: “Hallelujah” and “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,” both from the ‘70s Jesus Movement.
While at the NWLC, The brothers split their classes between practical and theological Vonda Dyer taught Shehrazer vocal techniques, Ray Jones gave them the roadmap for starting a worship choir and they learned from Scotty Smith about pastoral leadership and “Leading with a Limp.” They accessed Lance Winkler’s wisdom on songwriting and contemporizing hymns, among many other workshops.
Both were impressed by the conference and the conference volunteers and attendees. Azeem observed, “I liked the discipline. 1700 people—they asked you to go first. They waited for others. I loved the volunteers. They come to help. In Pakistan older people don’t want to do something and younger people don’t want to volunteer unless they are paid.” (And we agree the Church of the Resurrection volunteers are an 11 on a scale of one to 10.) Shehrazer smiled adding, “The worship touched my heart, all the styles and instruments, I feel the Holy Spirit is working here, changing you.”
In a country that is 97% Muslim and only 3% Christian, there can be some serious and challenges from the inside as well as the outside. “God is moving…Some churches are on fire. Some are sleeping,” says Shehrazer. The brothers concur: “We are trying to wake them, but we cannot wake the leaders, only the congregational people.” They do this through crusades that draw as many as 16,000 people. “Our priority is to give the glory to the Lord, involve the people in worship—to give a place of honor to the Holy Spirit. We want to encourage and teach people how they can live in Pakistan, be good citizens and live as Christians.”
In their school, they educate Muslims as well as Christians, so how they live their lives in Christ is daily on display to their community. They hope to open a Christian college, with discipleship and ministry training in two or three years. Both brothers have extended a welcome to NWLC to come and do a conference in Pakistan… Whether that will happen is yet to be seen, but we hope when your church plans a mission trip, they’ll think about going and encouraging our dear brothers in Pakistan Azeem and Shehrazer. And if you have any extra musical instruments, bring them when you come so more of their congregation can join in the musical part of singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to our mighty God.
Sherman Aten’s relationship with Shehrazer and Azeem has born fruit in so many ways. We at NWLC have been blessed by meeting part of our family who live half way around the world and in Pakistan, and Sherman attests to the results from the crusade earlier this year. “This experience has birthed three new church starts in Phool Neghar & Patoki, Pakistan.” He adds, “We are planning on returning to Pakistan in 2013.”
We at NWLC are hoping our brothers in Pakistan will return to NWLC and bring the pastors, worship leaders and teams from all three of these new churches to celebrate together with us in 2013.
Azeem and Shehrazer can be reached on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/azeem.moon.9; http://www.facebook.com/shehrazer
Read more about Pakistan and Sherman Aten’s ministry by visiting their website at www.a10s.org
There is still time to attend NWLC California, Find out more here.
5 Tips to Perfect Planning
By Aaron Stewart
There I was, hanging from a cable hundreds of feet over the rocky ravine. Though zipping through the jungles of Mexico harnessed to a steel cable was an exhilarating experience, as subsequent lines got higher and longer, I did occasionally wonder if the ragtag group of tour guides I had entrusted my life to had been adequately thorough in their planning and preparation. When the stakes (and the altitude) are that high, you want to know the cables are strong and that you won’t smash into any trees.
When people come to church, they are trusting that you as the worship leader know where you are going, have been there before, and are ready to help them experience God. That responsibility requires us to give our best not only while leading worship, but in planning it as well. If we are trying to continually improve our skills as part of the “performance” of worship leading, we can use the following 5 guidelines to help us in that pursuit.
The best-laid plans often involve collaboration. You can spend a lot of time coming up with great plans on your own, but they have the opportunity to be much more powerful when they coincide with other elements in your service. The first step is to try to find out what the message will be about and see what kind of other elements you can add that will support that message. The second less obvious step is to let your team help you. Even if you are the only person on staff, you can email key volunteers and ask them to contribute ideas. Not only will you come up with ideas that are much more diverse, your team will feel more connected and valued.
2. Plan Early
The farther ahead you plan, the more time you have not only for you and your team to come up with great options and ideas, but also to let those ideas sink in. When I learn a new song, I like to have it weeks ahead of time so I can play it repeatedly until it becomes second nature. If I have just learned a song, I am more concerned with remembering the song than focusing on the message. When you and your team are fully prepared, you are much less likely to make mistakes that redirect the focus from God back to you. The main reason “performance” has negative connotations for worship is that it implies the desired result is to focus on the worship leader. When done right, however, music that is rehearsed and performed well can provide an unobstructed pathway to give glory to God.
3. Worship While Planning
There is a common misconception that too much planning hinders the movement of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, sufficient planning can give you the freedom to follow the Holy Spirit and know that your team is ready to follow. We teach the members of our churches that they should not relegate worship to an activity on Sundays, but rather live a life of worship. Correspondingly, as worship leaders, we should lead by example and not miss an opportunity to worship God through our planning. Worship planning does not have to be purely logical and systematic. We can invite the Holy Spirit to move even in our preparation.
4. It’s More than Music
The title “Worship Leader” can be synonymous with music leader, but there are many more worship pathways than just music. Not all are meant for corporate worship, but finding opportunities to appropriately use video, drama, visual art, and dance can allow other members of your church to worship in a way they connect with as much as you connect through music. Remember that whatever you add, whether it be a motion background video behind lyrics, or someone painting during a featured song, it should not be separated from the rest of the service elements, but be integrated into the overall plan of directing focus to God.
5. Use Tools of the Trade
One of my friends who went to Mexico with me enjoys planning trips almost as much as going on them. Most of us don’t have that problem. Fortunately, there are an abundance of tools, many of them available online, solely created to help you plan and organize your worship services and communicate with your teams. Take advantage of those resources and let them do the heavy lifting for you.
The stakes don’t get much higher than leading people to worship the God of the Universe. By honing all aspects of our skills, including the ones that are implemented before anyone steps foot in the sanctuary, we prepare ourselves and our congregations to experience a focused and direct line to God, no harness necessary.
Aaron Stewart will be a workshop teacher at NWLC CA, to hear from him and many other top-notch speakers and workshop leaders, register today!
Aaron Stewart is the Co-Founder & Product Manager of PlanningCenterOnline.com, the premiere web-based application that helps thousands of churches plan and schedule their worship services. He was previously the Pastor of Music at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas for 6 years.
We are inviting an elite team of zealously enthusiastic worshipers to join our Street Team to bring in worship leaders and everyone who makes the worship service happen for churches everywhere!
When you’re selected to be a member of the Street Team for NWLC California you will use your energetic creativity to get the word out about NWLC California 2012, and for your efforts, we want to not only give you our thanks and appreciation, we’ll give you these 3 goodies:
1. Graphics, text, and cover photo for your Facebook page, blog, and your favorite channels (social media and traditional media) – just add your creativity, mix, and shake well
2. A custom discount code for 15% off registration exclusively for those you personally invite to NWLC CA 2012
4. The thrill of getting a NWLC CA 2012 pass for yourself at 50% off when 10 or more register with your code; or get yourself a completely free pass when 20 or more register with your code! (And there may be a few more additional bonuses down the road too!)
Those who you invite and attend will be blessed, you’ll be blessed, and we’ll all be blessed to do all that we do in Remembrance of Jesus!
This is an elite Street Team and we’re limiting it to 20 specially-selected members only! Excited? Enthusiastic? Apply to join our NWLC CA Street Team by filling out the form below:
Brenton Brown at NWLC Kansas,2012
Unleashing Your Hidden Songwriter
By Brenton Brown
The moment of inspiration can happen anywhere at anytime. Like almost everything in God’s kingdom, songs start out as seeds. They begin small with a spark of inspiration. What happens next of course, is up to us. When I first began writing songs at about age 10 the moments of inspiration tended to come from Duran Duran videos or school discos. Finding inspiration for God songs eight years later proved to be a difficult task. So difficult that I only managed to breakthrough the dry spell with prayer and fasting. It seemed, though, that once the drought was over the songs just kept arriving. But it all has to start somewhere, so let’s look at how songs start—the moment of inspiration.
For me the most obvious way to shake off the cares of this world is rest. That means not working. For some reason this is a concept I find hard to grasp. The idea of sitting in a room staring out the window resting fills me with dread and sadness. I have to plan rest times. I guess by this stage you’ve probably figured out that I’m an A-type personality. So, I’ve worked out that I need to trick myself into rest. However through that, I’ve also learned that resting is productive. I realized this the summer I took up wakeboarding. I had so much fun that summer, hanging with my friends and enjoying God’s creation. But at the end of it I realized that I’d written more songs over that two-month summer (it’s only two months in England) than the rest of the year combined. Creativity requires a certain playfulness—a willingness to try something knowing that it may not work out. Learning how to play again as an adult increases our threshold for risk, which in turn allows us to develop and try ideas we wouldn’t normally try. Rest leads to play, and play leads to songs.
Anything can inspire us if we’re in the right headspace. The important thing to realize is that a moment of strong emotion can be the start of something new. Typically there is a long and awkward section of perspiration that follows in order for a song to reach some stage of completion. But if we live our lives willing to let what moves us become something that moves us closer to God, then new songs are there for the taking every day.
Write down one activity that relaxes you and makes you more childlike, and practice it this week.
Listen to the radio this week for a new sound that gets you excited, then use it in a new song you are writing.
Brenton Brown has been the worship pastor at Oxford Vineyard, UK, and the coordinator of the Vineyard (UK) Worship Development Team. He witll be leading a general session of worship at NWLC CA and he currently leads the worship band Worship Republic.