Winter 2019


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Winter 2019
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Called to Be A Spiritual Director?

By Dr. Chuck Fromm

Worship is built on the chronicles of faith and prayer from the pages of Scripture and life, generation to generation. The words of worship are given meaning through embodied expression. In the echoing narrative of God, He is the initial sender, igniting worship in us as the receivers and we respond by sending spoken and sung-prayer back to Him. We raise songs of proclamation, supplication, inquiry, deliverance, communion, prophecy, each one a note in the grand narrative of relationship and communion between God and His Church. God Who sent, now receives, hears…, and responds. He is the ultimate Spiritual Director.

Worship at its heart is prayer. And prayer is sacred conversation. Spiritual direction is facilitating sacred conversation and personal growth in a fellow follower of Christ, helping a person to encounter and engage with God and life at a deeper and continually expanding level, in the space occupied by both the mystical and the practical. That is in many ways the call of a worship leader.

We at Worship Leader magazine have always aimed at following the Father’s lead, Jesus’ example, and the Spirit’s direction, and in turn sought to listen attentively to those who have come to us with spiritual and practical questions and needs. We’ve then shared those questions with pastors, theologians, musicians, sung prayer writers, technology advisors who could mentor, direct, and assist you in your calling and your life. Whatever God and experience has shared with us, we have shared with you. Together, we’ve explored a theology of worship as sung prayer. It’s a humbling thing to be allowed access to a person or a community’s spiritual life and I am grateful for each one of you. I never really thought of it this way, but God’s call to start a record label, then a magazine, and associated song service to congregations, and finally a conference, was really a call to become a spiritual director. I’m still in process, but am eternally grateful for those who took the time and interest to listen to my questions. Those who directed and continue to direct me, whether personally or via the written page, have literally changed the course of my life.

How do you hear God?

What place have you designated as sacred?

Where do you best receive spiritual direction?

The Clarity Solitude Brings

By David Bunker

How many times have I found myself standing side-by-side my fellow worship team members feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted?

One cannot lead a thriving community in worship without discovering the state of their inner world. In that discovery, it becomes clear very quickly. Our soul can be deeply disquieted and yet our conscious awareness of its state be ignored or denied. That disregard and denial is a price the worship leader and his fellow worshippers pay for dearly.

This issue of Worship Leader is focused on the role and impact spiritual direction and disciplines have on those who lead and engage in worship vocationally.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of deep and profound writing and ministering in and around spiritual direction.

When does the soul run out of deep meaning for discerning one’s journey?

How do you know when your inner life is deficient or depleted?

When life becomes small and descriptions take on a cynical tone one is often suffering from a lack of solitude. For those in ministry in this condition, the soul can turn reactionary, overly concerned with results and appearances, and lose its ability to rest and surrender.

It was in the hinterlands of Nashville that I came face to face with my own busyness of heart. I was hired to run a retreat center and I went excited and prepared to reveal all my strengths and insight. What I soon discovered was that I was not comfortable with my own thoughts. Spending hours and days in nature often by myself, made me aware of an inner disquiet. There was an intrusive meddling of anxiety that was persistent. I found that I would avoid solitude. My inner turmoil projected a lack of inner belonging. I could not quiet my thinking. There was an emptying that was calling out to me.

In the age of an intrusive media, we desperately need the cultivation of a space specifically assigned to solitude. Being alone is difficult. Many of us are so formed by the noises from Netflix and Spotify and phones that our first few experiences of solitude are grueling and actually painful to the soul. Being alone reveals much more of our deepest fears and unruly emotions and thoughts than we like to admit. For this reason, solitude is necessary for those who seek to lead worship.

Solitude also involves a degree of emptying. This emptying may involve the relinquishment of emotions that are crowding out one’s ability to be present and stay in the moment. Spirit-led worship leading is always a by-product of being present in the moment. Time is really only imagined. By that I mean we can look at the past and reflect on it. We can imagine the future and hope for it. But it is only the present moment that is available to us to create and join with God as co-creators.

When solitude becomes an actual discipline, our souls begin to desire and anticipate this time of respite and quiet. By abstaining from the myriad of distractions of an overly busy life, our soul is prone to ponder, we discover the resilient things, the important things to our deepest parts, our soul’s code, our birthright, our messages from the Father still caught up in the queue.

An inner calm is needed to hear the still small voice of God. Today listen and download the silence and its gifts. Make solitude a practice that brings clarity and empowers your worship leading.

The Abundant Fullness of Silence

By David Bunker

When I have run out of words

And the energy to even say them is gone

Silence looms like a veiled angelic courier

Peaking through the presence

Announcing a moratorium on my noisy interior

Proclaiming a stillness just outside my discovery

And as the wind of self expression dies down

Silence begins to surrender the chase

And I abandon my efforts

To impose my will and vision on the world

And as I instinctually listen for what keeps me alive

I am compelled to stand still and wait in anticipation

For it is out of this silence I am created


David Bunker

The Restored Heart

By Shane Tucker

You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.

Augustine of Hippo (354– 430A.D.), Confessions

Resting in God is a journey and a process. I am a vagabond, of sorts. My heart is prone to wander. Over the past few decades, I’ve moved within the U.S. and lived in Europe for eleven years. My heart has always been most at home on Ireland. Being saturated in the beauty of the Irish landscape urges me to slow down and listen, and helps me remember who I am and who I am not.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:20, NIV

What is it that captures our eye? What consumes our attention? To what, or whom, do we affix our affections?

These questions help tease out truth from this pithy fellowship of words, saturated with significance: I become what I behold. What we worshipthat which our eyes and heart are fixated uponhas the greatest influence over who we become. Taken as a whole, the Scriptures seem to indicate that the human heart is the center of our soul. Therefore, it’s no surprise we’re encouraged to, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). Who we are and who we become flows from our center, our hearts.

What does communicating with the Almighty look like in our everyday lives?

Fostering a relationship with Our Father consists of pouring our hearts out to Him (Psalm 62:8), listening for His Voice (Psalm 46:10; 81:8), then responding on what He’s revealed to us in Scripture and prayer (John 14:23-24).

Worship is a means by which our hearts communicate with God.

When many within the Body of Christ think of worship, what’s often inferred is the musical accompaniment to an intentional expression of praise directed to the One from whom all blessings flow and every good and perfect gift comes. Worship is broader. The entirety of our lives reflect Christ and give glory to God. Sung worship is a conduit of expression, a response to God’s initiative to reach and rescue us, and allows our hearts to free flow with gratitude, moved by the movement of the music.

If the role of sung worship is a means by which we can express our hearts to God, spiritual direction is a means by which God can more clearly express His heart to us.

Spiritual direction emphasizes listening to God. As I understand it, Jesus issues two calls to each of us.

  1. Walk with me. By responding to the call to walk with Jesus, we grow in intimacy with Him and our own sense of identity begins to take shape as a result.
  2. Work with me. This call matures into a sense of vocationbuilding God’s Kingdom here on earth.

But all of this begins with learning to discern, and obey, the voice of the Father. This is where the practice of spiritual direction becomes invaluable.

In a spiritual direction relationship, there are three parties: the directee, the director and the Holy Spirit. The directee invites a director, a trusted follow of Jesus, to walk life’s road alongside the directee. The director is trained to listen to the directee and the Holy Spirit simultaneously, and the director’s ability to listen will facilitate the directee’s awareness of God’s voice and work in their life via reflective questioning and praying with the Scriptures. This practice stems from the belief that we are all made for relationship with God, and that created within us is the desire and ability to foster a relationship with Our Father.

Sung worship and spiritual direction harmonize with one another, and authentic engagement in both help us nurture a robust relationship with God which Jesus Christ affords all people. It’s because of Jesus that we can cry out to God, ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom. 8:15). It’s through this heartfelt expression of affection for Him, and by learning to listen to His voice, that we remember who we are. We remember that we are His. In these moments we’re put back together, growing up to go out and fulfill our part in His missionthe renewal of all things (Rev. 21:5).


Shane is passionate about seeing people become who they were created to be, travel, writing, the arts and curating catalytic conversations.  He serves as associate priest at an Anglican Church, and as a spiritual director with his non-profit, Soul Friend.  Shane and his family live near Columbus, OH.

Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/silvertongue/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/dreamingbig

Website:  https://artistsoulfriend.com

A Golden Thread of Grace

An interview with Darlene Zschech

The Golden Thread is published by Thomas Nelson. Visit Darlene on Twitter @DarleneZschech.

Worship Leader: Your new book, The Golden Thread, examines the entire process and dynamic of “experiencing the presence of God in every season of life”.  Was this book difficult to write as you recalled some difficult memories?

Darlene Zschech: This book is dear to my heart, so it wasn’t difficult to write as it’s a piece of my story. I LOVE the fact that it is in the telling of our story that we relive again the goodness and faithfulness of God. Sometimes when you are lost in your pain it’s hard to SEE that God is with you, but when you look back you see that there was not one moment that He wasn’t walking with you through your pain.

WL: Young worship leaders that are just beginning their journeys will benefit immensely by reading The Golden Thread, and older worship leaders will be able to identify with your recollections and counsel as well.  Explain the “golden thread of grace” to our readers.

Darlene: How do I even begin to tell of the keeping power of God? His ability to HOLD us always. As I was writing this phrase, “like a golden thread”, just came out of my spirit. And every time I dive deep into my thoughts of the robust nature of God that is GRACE, that pure metal strand of His overriding kindness feels to me like a cord that will never let me go. I guess it is why I also am very passionate about the worship of God, as He is a God that can be experienced; not just spoken or sung about. I am one who is an ever-thankful recipient of the amazing grace.

WL: For some believers, the notion of God “not being angry with us”, is hard to accept.  Can you shed some light on this for worship leaders?

Darlene: The unrelenting love of God has been a deepening revelation IN me over many years. At first as a Christian, I was still ‘working hard’ to please Him, when actually I now realize that He doesn’t need my guilt-based works for me to prove my devotion. He is actually seeking my heart above all else. Hebrews 11:6 makes it simple; “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Seeking Him is the key. Not to get anything, but to know Him, to hear Him speak, to just BE with Him.

He loves us SO much. I see it when I look at how I am with my own children. NOTHING they do can make me love them less. They may disappoint me but even then, this behavior actually causes me to cry out to God on their behalf because of my love for them. I love Psalm 145 when it clearly describes God’s heart: ‘”The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in mercy and loving-kindness.” Psalm 145:8 (AMP). This is Gods heart for us all.

WL: Many things have changed over the past 20 years in the world of worship.  Yet, some things will never change. Can you elaborate on what truths remain and will always remain?

Darlene: Every generation has its own sound and way of expressing its heart before God. The methods will always change, but the foundation of truth will always remain. Sometimes I get concerned over what people place value on. But the Holy Spirit has an amazing way of pulling our hearts back into line when we wander. The centrality of the gospel will always be where the power of our message is, and our defining feature will always be the presences of God. Not our talents, opportunities or abilities, but the resurrection power of Christ alive in us. You can manufacture an atmosphere in some ways, but you can never manufacture the presence of God.

WL: Please tell our readers what you hope and pray for regarding the reading of your new book? How will your recollections and learnings impact our readers?

Darlene: My prayer is that through this message of the Golden Thread, you will be encouraged to trust in the providence of our great God, and that you will grow in confidence that God is with you, always. Our Emmanuel. There is no one and nothing that will ever compare.

Spiritual Direction and the Worship Leader

By Justin Fox

Through the centuries many leaders have found great value and support in meeting with a spiritual director as part of their ongoing discipleship and spiritual formation. I discovered the value personally after graduating from Talbot Seminary and going on to serve as a spiritual director myself. It has profoundly impacted the way I shepherd, lead, and love others.

How these ministries are unique

Before diving into the connection between spiritual direction and worship leading, let’s discuss the differences.

Worship leading usually describes the activity of guiding a small-to-large group through an experience of corporate singing, prayer, reading, and listening to God together. Spiritual direction, on the other hand, is limited in scope from a one-to-one relationship up to a small group setting.

There is more content coming from the participant (the “directee”) rather than the leader in spiritual direction. Significant time and opportunity must be created by a spiritual director, so the directee is free to set the pace to talk, share, and process out loud the activity of God in his or her life. Worship leading is the opposite; the worship leader provides most of the content, pacing, and agenda for individuals or a congregation in which to follow and participate.

How these ministries connect

Spiritual direction can play a specific role in the devotional life and professional development of a Worship Leader, and there seem to be several poignant benefits.

  • Spiritual direction helps Worship Leaders develop an ability to be in tune with the leading and activity of the Holy Spirit.
    It gives them space to ponder and reflect on God’s presence in their own lives, to learn to hear and trust the voice and stirrings of God, which in turn informs the way that they lead others. It strengthens their sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit in worship planning and the facilitation of worship gatherings.
  • Receiving spiritual direction helps Worship Leaders get better in touch with their own emotions and situation.
    The contours of this journey often lead to deeper, contemplative places of honesty, confession, and growth, exponentially broadening a Worship Leader’s understanding of developmental spirituality and the complexity of human anthropology. The concept that a leader “cannot effectively guide people to where they have not gone themselves” takes on critical meaning here. Spiritual direction enables a Worship Leader to more contemplatively write and choose worship elements and liturgies that reflect these realities of heart, soul, body, emotions, and habits.
  • Spiritual direction gives Worship Leaders the long view of spiritual formation in the life of believers.
    By taking into account process and conversational prayer, Worship Leaders can move beyond the goal of emotional expression or musical excellence. Worship Leaders gain new metrics for evaluating the success or effectiveness of their ministry, including the ongoing development of a congregation’s prayer life and overall growth in spiritual maturity.

Ways to prepare for worship leading as a Spiritual Director

As we begin to discuss ways to implement the values of spiritual direction into your worship leading, you may be asking this question; “Why should I adopt or embody this style or method as a Worship Leader?” Especially if you haven’t had an experience with spiritual direction and don’t personally subscribe to it as an element of discipleship in your life, this is a fair objection. But whether you are a “fan” of spiritual direction or not, it’s important to consider that as Worship Leaders, we are also Culture Makers. Meaning, the way you approach, prepare for, and lead worship creates values and cultural touchstones within your context.

Whatever you’re doing to get people in your pews, you will have to continue to do in order to keep them there. If your strategy and values, for instance, are high-production, Vegas-style smoke and mirrors, having the right fitting jeans, or staying up on the latest, greatest worship songs, you will need to keep that up, or do one better each week in order to keep your congregation engaged and entertained. Instead, consider this: What is the culture you want to create through your leadership? What kind of worshippers do you want your people to become over time? Let these greater questions shape your worship leading. You and your congregation will be grateful and blessed by doing so.

It’s particularly interesting to reflect on the ways a Spiritual Director is instructed to prepare before meeting with their Directee, and how these items of preparation have some corollary with the preparation to lead worship. I see these prompts being helpful as Worship Leaders begin to plan a service or liturgy, or as they enter the sanctuary or worship space to prayerfully get things ready for the already-planned gathering to come. These culture-shaping postures take practice, repeated over time, to develop, hence they are listed here as “practices” for that very reason.

Practice stillness. Ask the Lord in prayer, “Spirit, how quiet is my soul? Show me and hold for me what is in my soul so I can be truly present with those I’m ministering to. Give me peace, make me still.”

If we’re honest, often our Worship Leader souls (especially in preparation for leading) are a churning, turbulent sea of anxiety, fear, and self-consciousness, rushed and compressed by hurry, busyness, turmoil, and uncertainty. Unfortunately, if this is the case, it gets reflected to our teams and congregation. We cannot provide a peaceful place of stillness to those around us if we are not experiencing it to some degree ourselves.

We need the Spirit’s power to help us do this. That’s why this is a prayer, a request: “Give me peace. Make me still.” How might starting your time of planning or preparation with a prayer like this shape your experience? How “still” is your soul as you plan your worship services, print chord charts, or plug in mic cables? If you took even five minutes to pause and ask this of the Lord in prayer before jumping into all the necessary, practical activities of preparation, your entire demeanor, pace, and availability to God and others may be changed. How might it change you? What would it look like for a Worship Leader to lead from a place of inner peace and stillness? In what ways would this be a gift to our congregation and volunteer teams? In a chaotic and anxious world, this posture can make our sanctuaries truly become sanctuaries for many.

Practice hospitality. Prayer point: “Lord, help me welcome these people and be fully present, as if they were you.”

Before rehearsal, are the necessary materials and technical needs prepared in advance for your volunteers? How is the lighting, tidiness, and organization in the room? Does it represent a still, peaceful, loving, and hospitable soul? The attention paid to these details will greatly help your teams experience peace, love, and hospitality, and they will reflect it back. It will enable them to move beyond petty distractions and to focus more clearly on the important things, like their own spiritual formation and call to service, as well as the divine task at hand.

And, before your congregation enters the worship space, how hospitable have you made it for them? Are things intentionally placed exactly where they should be? Have you given adequate attention to how the platform looks? If Jesus where to walk in a few minutes before service and have a seat, what would he be noticing? What are the surroundings saying about your gathering to come? Does the platform have intentional lighting, meaningful, color-coordinated items on it (candles, art, pulpit, nature, Scripture, etc.)? Or, is it cluttered with guitar cases, dusty plastic flowers, and dented water bottles? Again, hospitality is surprisingly important to the care of others. When the sobering task of spiritual formation is on the table, this welcoming step is crucial.

Practice safety. Ask God in prayer, “Lord, am I safe? Make me a place of confidentiality. Take away any judgment.”

Spiritual Directors operate with a code of confidentiality like many other counseling-type practices, so this particular element may not directly apply to worship leading, but there’s something here nonetheless. What would it mean for a Worship Leader to be a “safe” person, without any judgment? Are you a leader that your congregants and volunteers can trust with personal disclosures, with vulnerability? Are you a safe person that others can be honest and real with about their failings and doubts? Can you keep confidences and respond with grace and love instead of judging too quickly?

How do we approach the various musical tastes, preferences, and suggestions of our congregants and volunteers – with snap judgments and quick dismissals if we don’t agree, or with grace and a suspension of criticism? Practicing this posture of safety as we plan and lead our teams in rehearsal and preparation can help us deepen relationships and provide a space for accountability, honesty, and true spiritual growth.

Practice attentiveness.  Prayer point: “Lord, help me focus on others and their experience, to feel for and pay attention to them. Help me set aside anything going on in my own life. Help me to be absent from myself and present with you and for these people.”

This last one is complex because there are often personal experiences we are going through as Worship Leaders that can be quite helpful to share with others. We need to be discerning, though, on what things might be truly helpful or not. Be skeptical and suspicious of your own motives. It’s likely better to error on the side of the prayer above, to be “absent” from yourself and more present with God and others.

In our worship planning and preparation, it is a rich gift to offer our attentiveness to others, instead of ourselves. How might they experience these songs, these readings, or this liturgical order of things? When we are able to step out of the way, we can more deeply connect with God and others, which allows others, in turn, to more deeply connect with God.

May these practices and postures guide you in a fresh way as you plan and prepare to lead in worship. May God be glorified as you lean on His power within you to love others well.


Pastor of Worship at Grace Community Church in Seal Beach
Spiritual Director for Grafted Life and Biola University

A native Californian, married for 25 years, with four grown children, Justin’s background as a songwriter, recording artist, and worship leader, gives him a unique heart for artists, musicians, and the creative community.

Website: justinfox.com

Twitter: @justinfox

FB: @foxjustin

Instagram: @justin_fox

Leading Worship like a Spiritual Director

By Rory Noland

I have the privilege of leading worship and the opportunity to minister as a spiritual director to the pastors and worship leaders in attendance at the retreat ministry The Transforming Center. Outside the retreat setting, I have an additional 10-12 individuals with whom I meet monthly for spiritual direction.

In many ways, offering spiritual direction is a lot like leading worship.

First of all, both roles operate under misleading titles. As a spiritual director, I’m not directing anyone or anything; the Holy Spirit is guiding the conversation. A spiritual director’s job is to companion his or her directees prayerfully as a “soul friend,” and to help them pay attention to where and how God might be moving in their lives. Putting it bluntly, my job is to stay out of the Holy Spirit’s way.

Like the term spiritual director, the title of worship leader is also a misnomer. Scripture teaches that Jesus is the One truly leading us in worship. As our heavenly High Priest (Heb. 4:14), the true minister of the sanctuary (Heb. 8:1-2), Jesus leads the people of God in declaring the glory of God’s name, singing his Father’s praises wherever and whenever we assemble (Heb. 2:10-12).

Worship leaders lead like spiritual directors when we present worship as, first and foremost, not about us (and our stellar music or impressive production values), but about the Lord, that we acknowledge that Jesus is the one in charge of our worship and follow his Spirit’s lead.

The Art of Listening

My formal training as a spiritual director and in spiritual formation schooled me in the art of listening.

I used to think I was a good listener, but I quickly learned that I can be easily distracted at times. As someone is talking, my mind can dart all over the place. I began to notice that I interrupt more than I should and I fill uncomfortable silences with awkward attempts to console or, even worse, inane attempts at humor.

I also learned that, like all people, I tend to listen to others through filters established by my temperament, personality, and life experience. The way we perceive others often reveals just as much (if not more) about ourselves as it does the other person.

In addition, I became aware of how my own fears and insecurities hindered my effectiveness. For example, I had to get over my fear of not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing to someone who was struggling. I also needed to move beyond the self-imposed pressure to say something profound to prove I’m a decent spiritual director.

To give directees my undivided attention, I need to put aside all distractions (especially those related to ego) that hinder me from being truly present both to the person and to the moment.

Worship leaders face the same challenge. As we plan and lead worship, we too need to put aside our egos in order to stay attentive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit. We too must set aside any distractions that hinder us from being fully present to the Lord and to our people, which is easier said than done, especially today.

Challenges of Being Fully Present

Many experts are mourning the loss of interpersonal connection in our current Digital Age. As much as I love technology and every new gadget that Silicon Valley cranks out, I have to agree with those who claim that our addiction to our cell phones and social media is killing our ability to engage with one another in meaningful ways.

Ironically, “social” media is hindering our ability to be social in the truest sense of the word. Today, instead of enjoying rich, thoughtful conversations, we too often settle for short, shallow bursts of one-liners. We’re like cave people exchanging digital grunts and groans and primitive sign language.

This is not a problem merely among the younger generation; it’s a societal issue, a cultural phenomenon, with which we all struggle. If you and I are sitting together over coffee and we both keep checking our phones every time they beep or buzz—-if we’re that easily distracted and our conversation so easily interruptible—-then we are not truly present to each other. As a culture, we are losing our capacity for prolonged attentiveness to one another.

Our proclivity for distraction is also stunting our spiritual growth because we do the same thing to God that we do to each other.

We have a difficult time concentrating while reading God’s Word or praying because our brains are being conditioned by the digital world for shorter attention spans. We need to be constantly stimulated or we get bored. We hurry through our Bible reading instead of listening for what God may be trying to say to us. We try to pray and we get so distracted that our prayer times turn into frenetic, one-sided conversations where we prattle on without allowing God to get a word in edgewise. Rarely do we linger in God’s presence long enough to sense him speaking, to experience deeper intimacy with him, to worship him, or just enjoy his presence.

I know all this because I too struggle with hurry and distractions during my devotions. I too have difficulty being fully present to God. In Understanding Christian Spirituality, Michael Downey writes that the spiritual life entails “attending to God’s presence to us and responding to God’s presence by being altogether present to the divine presence which is always near” (67-68). Lingering in God’s presence enables us to enjoy him and puts us in position to receive all the spiritual benefits he has to offer us.

The inability to be truly present in the moment is a serious problem for worship leaders, especially since helping others be aware of God’s presence is part of our calling. How many times have we told our people to “be still and know he is God,” and yet we can’t be still before God for two minutes? How can we inspire our people to be open and receptive to the Lord if we ourselves are too distracted to be fully present to God?

What kind of presence do you want to bring to worship?

My goal as a spiritual director is to be a calm, non-anxious male presence in the lives of those with whom I meet. In a similar fashion, I encourage every worship leader to discern, given his or her personality and passions, what kind of presence he or she would like to bring to rehearsal as well as to Sunday morning worship.

In describing how she remained attentive as a spiritual companion, Julian of Norwich famously replied that she looked first to God, then at the person, then back to God. In other words, her attention went back and forth so as to remain fully present to both.

To lead worship like a spiritual director, then, is to plan and lead with one eye on the Lord and the other on the congregation in order to be fully present to both.


Rory Noland is the director of Heart of the Artist Ministries. A trained spiritual director, Rory also leads worship for The Transforming Center and co-chairs the worship department at Nebraska Christian College where he teaches classes on spiritual formation and worship.

Website: www.heartoftheartist.org

Twitter: @rorynoland

Facebook: Rory Noland

Music Ministry and Spiritual Direction

By John Michael Talbot

I’ve been involved in music ministry for over four decades. During that time I have seen many rise and fall, both in popularity and in the integrity of their spiritual and moral lives. With both, the rise to and fall from success comes extended time on the road that often isolates the minister from their local church and pastoral accountability. It also means time away from spouses, families, and friends who have no financial interest in the relationship. This always spells trouble. One answer is having a real relationship of good spiritual direction.

I was blessed to have a spiritual father in Christ, the Church, and monastic community for nearly 30 years of my music ministry. He kept me from innumerable failings and pitfalls. His name was Fr. Martin Wolter. He was a jovial Franciscan friar who loved Jesus and life in that order. He taught me wonderful lessons about both. But Martin could be extremely fallible and frustrating. He was a typical German that often got sidetracked in the details. He’d miss the meaning of one of my books by correcting the unedited grammar. He was also forgiving, almost to a fault. Sometimes, I needed a swift kick in the backside, and he would only tell me how much Jesus loved me. Sometimes I wanted someone to tell me what to do! But he wouldn’t do it. He just held up a mirror to let me see how silly I often was. And he could talk too much! At times I would have to wait 40 minutes while he talked before I could share why I wanted to see him. His brother friars called this “One Hour Martinizing.” This was often frustrating.

But both he and God were testing me to see if I had the patience to wait for the spiritual nuggets that were surely coming in the Spirit. When I needed Jesus to speak to me in a mediated way through an experienced spiritual father and older brother he was always there. Often, he would show up, or call unannounced at the time when I needed some guidance the most. He would do this because he had heard Jesus tell him in prayer that I needed some guidance. This was almost miraculous. This taught me that, like seeing Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine in the Eucharist, we often have to look beyond the human frailties and faults of spiritual directors to gain the real benefit from them.

Probably the greatest lesson Fr. Martin taught me was balance. This is important, for I am radical and sometimes fanatical by nature. He used many parables and examples to illustrate this. The left or right leaning factions of the Church sometimes frustrated me. He said that the church is like the body of Christ, which has a left and right foot. In order for the body to move forward, it must step first on one foot, then on the other. Likewise, life in the church sees many different movements of the Spirit. Sometimes they seem conservative, like the right foot. At other times they seem more progressive, like the left foot. If we only focus on the feet we can often get frustrated with extremes to either side. But if we are patient, we will see that the body of Christ is walking in the straight line towards the goal of eternity. His teaching always kept me balanced, and it still does so today. And he taught me that being radical is like a radish with deep roots. It keeps us from being blown away by every secular or religious wind. It taught me the difference between genuine radicalism and fanaticism that simply mimics the external aspects of genuine radicalism to an absurdity and fault.

Spiritual direction goes back to the relationship of the apostles with Jesus, and the disciples in the various churches they founded with their successors in the bishops. It began to specialize in the monastic movements that came from Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. From there it spread throughout Europe, and the Christian east. They were to see Jesus in their spiritual father or mother. In this tradition, the younger disciples talk to the spiritual director almost daily. They would share not only their righteousness and their sin, but even their temptations and thoughts. This was required in order for the spiritual director to really know the disciple. Otherwise, the direction could be off target. This is also unique from the later practice of the frequent use of the sacrament of penance, where only sins in thought, word, and deed are confessed.

This also requires trust between the disciple and spiritual director. So, it’s important to find a good spiritual director. But it is unrealistic to expect perfection from a spiritual director. If you wait for that you’ll wait until heaven! And, as the saying goes, when the disciple is ready, the master will appear. St. Seraphim of Sarov said that it’s better to have a spiritual director than to have no spiritual director. But, it’s better to have no spiritual director than to have a bad one! In the latter case, it’s important for the disciple to steep themselves in the teachings of the fathers and mothers, who are the successors to the saints. But, this is never the desired norm, for it leaves the disciple more open to the tactics of evil, coming externally from the devil, and internally from one’s own weakness. Those who rely on themselves for direction have a fool for a spiritual director.

The good spiritual director is a man or woman who has walked the gospel way for decades before the disciple. Therefore, they’re able to point out the pitfalls of spiritual life that the younger disciple may not be able to see. They share, not from the desire to control, but from a willingness to accompany the younger disciple on their journey. Pope Francis calls this the spirituality of accompaniment.

The Christian east says that the good spiritual director carries the burden with the disciple in Christ, Who bears all our burdens. But, they only bear not quite half of our burden. This leaves the primary focus on Jesus, and the main responsibility of following Jesus to the disciple. They stand in the place of Christ in their role as father or mother, but are not Christ. They always remain our brothers and sisters in Christ. They only point the disciple to Jesus, and the disciple will eventually lead others to Christ as well.     

In order to avoid scandal or temptation, men usually have male spiritual directors, and women have female ones, though this is not absolute. I also recommend meeting in rooms with windows that allow others to look in and see at all times, though not hear. I usually recommend finding a good monastic for spiritual direction rooted in solid Christian tradition. But there are different schools that might work best for different temperaments. In the west, the Benedictine uses a developed desert father and mother approach. Franciscans use a broad approach that even allows for several directors in concert with one main director who specializes in one aspect or another of spirituality. Jesuits use a very detailed way. The Eastern Orthodox specializes in the Jesus Prayer and Hesychasm, or the way of sacred silence. The Copts, or Egyptian monastics, specialize in the desert fathers and mothers in an almost unbroken chain through history.  

So, I recommend that music ministers have a good spiritual director. Due to both temperament and environment, we are more prone to giving in to the temptations the devil will throw at us from the world. To start I recommend finding a good and saintly monastic that you can meet face to face with quarterly, and call every few days. Share your life, your sins, and even the temptations that come into your mind openly. Then let the voice of Jesus speak to you through your older father, mother, brother, or sister in Christ. If you are like me, it might very well save your personal life, your marriage, and even your soul.


John Michael Talbot is a Grammy / Dove Award winning, multiple platinum-selling Contemporary Christian Music pioneer and a best-selling author of over 30 books.  He recently completed a successful three year run as Host and Writer of the TV program “All Things Are Possible with God”. Talbot leads his very active ministry as Founder and General Minister of the integrated monastic community, the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, from monasteries in Arkansas and Texas.


Facebook: www.Facebook.com/JohnMichaelTalbot

Twitter: www.Twitter.com/JMTalbot

Personal and Corporate Worship
An interview with Carolyn Arends      

Worship Leader’s David Bunker recently caught up with recording artist, speaker, author, and college instructor Carolyn Arends. She is currently the Director of Education for Renovar, a far-reaching organization that encourages and nurtures spiritual renewal.

Worship Leader (WL): Are we as a church right now full of a lot of head knowledge and not much heart, or the opposite? And how does that impact our worship? 

Carolyn Arends: I’m not sure you can answer that uniformly—for every church with an overemphasis on creedal knowledge at the expense of direct experience, there’s another church with an emphasis on experience at the expense of theologically sound ideas about the God we are worshipping. Scripture encourages us to “reason together” (Isaiah 18:1) and to “be still and know” (Psalm 46:10). We need an integration of head and heart … and of body, too, which is why we are called to love with God with heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30).

Right thinking is very important in worship—if we don’t have an understanding of the Triune God that’s informed by Scripture (and by the history of the church’s grappling with Scripture), we will definitely construct and then worship a God of our own making. But the hope, of course, is not just to tick off some theological cognitive boxes and be done with it. If our thinking is getting anywhere close to apprehending a bit of the wonder and beauty of God, wholehearted worship will be the natural response.

That’s a long way of saying both head and heart are critically important. I want to reiterate, too, that it’s essential to get our whole bodies involved—to get worship into our sinew and muscle. That’s why singing can be such an important ally in worship—it invites our vocal cords and lungs and diaphragms to agree with our heads and hearts—and to put some effort into it!

WL: How do personal and corporate worship differ?

Carolyn: I’m guessing it goes without saying here in Worship Leader magazine that our personal worship involves every aspect of our beings and every moment of our days. We are always worshipping something—always giving something or someone ultimate value and then living our lives in orbit around that thing or person. As followers of Jesus, the longing of our hearts is to keep the Triune God in that place of ultimate value. Intentional personal practices of worship—things like training our minds on God through study, opening our hearts to God through silence and solitude and the contemplation of beauty, expressing our love and gratitude through prayer and song—these are all things that help keep us orbiting around the right Center. (And falling ever more deeply in love with Him!)

Scripture seems to assume that this process of orienting our lives around the right Center will necessarily also involve corporate worship. In corporate worship, we gather with others to remind ourselves who God is, what He’s done and is doing, and to “magnify” (make big) His beauty and glory in our midst. In corporate worship, we set aside our personal preferences and pathways for a bit and work together to proclaim God’s story to ourselves and to the universe. The “togetherness” of corporate worship is its unique property and gift. That’s why, for example, if I happen to be leading corporate worship in song, I will change any singular pronouns in the lyrics (I, me, my) to plural pronouns (us, we, our) whenever possible.

WL: In regard to leadership and the spiritual disciplines in the church, are we doing more of a performance or are we really spilling our embodied lives and witness into a corporate moment?

Carolyn: Without visiting and getting to deeply know hundreds of congregations, it would be hard for me to answer that question fairly. But, just based on my own experience, I do find myself going back to a quote from Bernard of Clairvaux, who was a 12th-century church reformer. Listen to what he said nearly a thousand years ago, and tell me if it doesn’t still ring true:

If then you are wise, you will show yourself rather as a reservoir than as a canal. A canal spreads abroad water as it receives it, and a reservoir waits until it is filled before overflowing, and thus without loss to itself communications its superabundant water. In the Church at the present day we have many canals but few reservoirs.

I think a lot of us in the church have a tendency to pour out for others without being filled ourselves. It takes time and intentionality to create space and receptivity in our own lives in order to be constantly filled by Living Water. But we will be so much more useful for others if we can serve them out of the overflow—rather than the dregs—of our own lives with God.

WL: Is worship at its deepest core more of an inward, outward, or corporate discipline? 

Carolyn: I think it’s an upward discipline, leading to inward, outward, and corporate expression. We cast a long, loving gaze upon God, and in doing so discover He is within us and without us and drawing us together.

WL: How important is silence & solitude to personal worship?

Carolyn: Absolutely essential. Jesus, with his habit of heading out to the wilderness to pray, is our example in this. As Dallas Willard used to say, if Jesus Christ needed silence and solitude in order to stay connected with His Father, how much more do we, in our troubled condition, need these gifts? 

WL: What about corporate worship? Should a congregation embrace uncomfortably long periods of silence in a congregational setting? 

Carolyn: That’s an interesting question. I was recently a guest at Mosaiek Church in South Africa, where they incorporate silences of anywhere from 2-10 minutes in their gatherings. I’ve always thought of silence as a personal, rather than corporate, discipline, but there was something incredibly powerful about sitting with fellow believers in expectant, reverent quiet. I’d like to experiment with that more.

WL: Are there any private or personal disciplines that are essential to any kind of leadership in the church?

Carolyn: Yes. Jesus said we would have fruit if we abide in Him, and abiding takes time and intentionality. Years ago, I had the privilege of taking a distance ed course through Regent College with Eugene Peterson. I can still remember the argument I had with a lecture mp3:

Peterson: Pastors are highly susceptible to the sin of sloth.

Me: What are you talking about? Pastors are some of the most overworked people alive.

Peterson: Sloth is most often evidenced in busyness…in frantic running around, trying to be everything to everyone, and then having no time to listen or pray, no time to become the person who is doing these things.

Every church leader has to figure out his or her own rhythms of “abiding in the vine” (or becoming a reservoir rather than a canal)—but I’d be surprised if those rhythms didn’t include prayer, silence, solitude, and practices that engender spontaneous worship (things like walking outside, playing with our kids, eating ice cream, responding to beauty in art and nature). 

WL: How might leaning more heavily on a personal inward discipline versus a corporate one impact your ability to lead worship? Does it matter or is it “both and,” and what might that look like in a daily practical sense?

Carolyn: I’m not sure who first observed that Jesus came to “comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” but I love that expression because I think Jesus brings the needed balance in just that way in every area, if we’ll only let Him. If we are deepening our friendship with Him on an ongoing basis, I think it’s pretty much guaranteed that He will “make more corporate the overly-personal, and personalize the overly-corporate”—in other words, he will help us grow out of our default preferences (which might have something to do with whether we are introverts or extroverts) into richly balanced lives of consistent personal and corporate worship.

For more information on Carolyn Arends and Renovar, go to renovare.org and carolynarends.com.

https://www.facebook.com/CarolynArendsOfficial/  twitter – @CarolynArends instagram – @carolyn_arends

https://www.facebook.com/renovareusa/  twitter – @renovareusa instagram – @renovareofficial

Reclaiming Retreat as a Spiritual Practice

By Ruth Haley Barton

The problem with trying to talk about retreat these days is that the word itself has been severely compromised, both in the secular culture and in the religious subculture. In business circles, a retreat is often a long meeting from which you cannot go home. It usually involves extended days spent off-site in which the event organizers not only have control over your daytime working hours but also your evening and early morning hours. Typically, we work harder on “retreat” than in our normal working days, and of course we come home exhausted.

The same is true in church culture. A retreat might involve an extended time away for the elders or pastoral staff to do strategic planning or problem solving. Usually time is built in for fellowship and community building, which means that the days are long and the evenings even longer!

We also might be accustomed to youth retreats and men’s, women’s, or couple’s retreats that include multiple teaching sessions with many other carefully orchestrated programming elements—loud music, icebreakers, games, elective workshops, activities, skits, and entertainment. Participants typically share rooms, which means they stay up later than usual and don’t rest as well because of the snoring person in the other bed! While such events are wonderful opportunities for building community and creating space for focused teaching and interaction with others, they can also be stimulating to the extent that no one leaves rested or in touch with their own souls—at least not in the way Jesus encouraged his disciples to “come away with me and rest a while.”

So what are we really talking about when we reference retreat as a spiritual practice?

Retreat in the context of the spiritual life is an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention; it is, as Emilie Griffin puts it, “a generous commitment to our friendship with God.” The emphasis is on the words extended and generous. Truth is, we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have done well to incorporate regular times of solitude and silence into the rhythm of our ordinary lives, which means we’ve gotten pretty good at giving God twenty minutes here and half an hour there. And there’s no question we are better for it!

But many of us are longing for more—and we have a sense that there is more if we could create more space for quiet to give attention to God at the center of our beings. We sense that a kind of fullness and satisfaction is discovered more in the silence than in the words, more in solitude than in socializing, more in spaciousness than in busyness. “Times come,” Emilie Griffin goes on to say, “when we yearn for more of God than our schedules will allow. We are tired, we are crushed, we are crowded by friends and acquaintances, commitments and obligations. The life of grace is abounding, but we are too busy for it. Even good obligations begin to hem us in.”

Ron Roheiser points out three images for retreat used in Scripture that meet us in our yearning; all of them apply in different ways at different times.

  • There is the lonely place to which Jesus invited his disciples when he said, “Come away to a deserted place . . . and rest a while” (Mark 6:30). With this invitation he was calling them out of their busyness to a place of rest beyond the demands of their life in ministry, as we referenced earlier.
  • There is the desert/wilderness that the Spirit drove Jesus to after his baptism (Luke 4). Here he did battle with Satan and faced his demons, as we all must. But there’s more! Old Testament references hint at the fact that the wilderness (spiritually speaking) is also a place of intimacy where God tenderly speaks those things he has been wanting to say to our souls: “Therefore I will now allure her, / and bring her into the wilderness / and speak tenderly to her. . . . / There she shall respond as in the days of her youth” (Hosea 2:14-15). “When Israel was a child, I loved him, / and out of Egypt I called my son [to a journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land]. / The more I called them, / the more they went from me” (Hosea 11:1-2). Clearly something special happens between God and his people in the wilderness!
  • And there is the Sabbath, the first retreat of all retreats, in which God introduces rhythms of work and rest to the way we order our time. When time had no shape at all, God—by his example and by his instruction—established optimal rhythms for his creation that included working six days and resting on the seventh. This was not a lifestyle suggestion; it was a commandment as significant as not murdering, not committing adultery, and not lying.

These metaphors form the biblical/spiritual context for reclaiming retreat as spiritual practice for our time. In fact, there has never been a time when the invitation to retreat is so radical and so relevant, so needed and so welcome.

The yearning for retreat: Can you feel it? That yearning is your invitation. It is the Spirit of God stirring up your deepest longings and questions in order to draw you deeper into the intimacy with the God you were created for. Will you trust it? Are you brave enough to let it carry you into the more?

To fully reclaim retreat as a practice that will open us to God, we will explore some of the concrete invitations contained within the more general one. We will consider the meaning of a military retreat (otherwise known as “strategic withdrawal”) for our own lives— putting distance between ourselves and the battle line, wherever that line is drawn in our lives right now. We will hear God’s invitation to rest and learn what we must relinquish in order to do that. We will experience rhythms that replenish us—body, mind, and soul. We will practice recognizing and responding to the presence of God through discernment, and recallibrate based on what God is saying to our souls. We will feel drawn to re-engage our lives in the company of others from a more rested place and establish regular patterns of returning and resting in God.

My guess is that the invitation to retreat feels as different and countercultural to most of us as it felt to the disciples, but it was—and is!—the right invitation, offered by One who knows his children so well. The beauty of it is that we are not pushed, coerced, manipulated, or told we have to. Rather, we are invited to enter into something so good for us—body, mind, and soul—that once we recognize it as the winsome opportunity it really is, everything in us will leap to say yes. We may even wonder why it took us so long!


Ruth Haley Barton is founding president of the Transforming Center, a spiritual formation ministry to pastors and Christian leaders. A trained spiritual director, teacher, and retreat leader, she is the author of Invitation to Solitude and SilenceSacred Rhythms, and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.


Twitter account: @transformingcnt

Impacting The Church Through Song

Worship Leader’s Alex MacDougall recently reconnected with England’s Stuart Townend. One of the most important songwriters over the past two decades, Stuart has amassed a rich library of songs for the church including writing “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us” and co-writing “In Christ Alone”. His new project, Courage, will be distributed in the US by Integrity Music. For more information, visit stuarttownend.co.uk.

WL: What could you say to worship leaders about being faithful to what you believe you’ve been called to?

Stuart: Songs have such an important role to play in our understanding of God. People are learning their theology in large part through the songs they sing. That’s just a fact. It’s not a good or a bad thing, it’s just a fact. What kind of a picture are we painting of who God is through the songs we sing?

Songs can teach us the faith and give us a bigger picture of who God is. The problem with only singing songs that say, “I love you, I’m here for you”, is that we’re not really expanding our minds to understand the beautiful, eternal, immortal view of who God is. We need to sing not just about how good He is and how faithful He is in our lives, but also to say, “God is the God of justice; He’s the God of creation; He’s the God of compassion for those who are marginalized”.

The calling that I feel most on me is to write songs that help feed the church, and help in a way to broaden and deepen their relationship with an understanding of how God works in our lives, and help in our understanding of God by singing about Him, so that we aren’t just simply focusing our songs on the experience of worshiping in the moment.

WL:  To what extent should worship leaders understand tradition, and understand the classic hymns and the Psalms?

Stuart: The tradition of exploring our faith is something hymns and traditions can teach us. If you look at the old prayers of different traditions throughout Christian history, they are songs and hymns and Psalms. They explore in greater depth who God is and try to paint a picture of Who God is. Hymns actually encourage us to humbly seek God and recognize that we’re not worthy of what God gives us, but because of His grace, He does give. Some of the old Celtic hymns say, “I am so in need of You”. They are songs of repentance. We have sometimes lost that because they’re not comfortable. Perhaps we don’t sing about it because we would prefer to sing songs that invite the warm, cozy experience of worship. We actually explore a very small aspect of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

A leading bishop in the UK was talking about the Psalms and he said, “look at the range of what is being sung about in the Psalms and compare that with the range of what you’re singing about in your local church. Which is wider?” That should be a challenge for us to look at the hymnal of the World Testament.

WL: Of all the hymn writers that were born from The Reformation, who do you really love to listen to?

Stuart: I am most inspired to write from the prolific outburst of somebody like Isaac Watts and Wesley because of the range of things that they write about, and the tone and ability to express in a beautiful phrase the wonder of God. There is also something wonderful about being able to sing great theology. It makes it much more powerful in our lives because we recall and remember. However, I think there is a place for us to sing it, and then there’s a place for us to meditate on it.

WL: The song “In Christ Alone”, has traveled the world. But there is a lyric in there about the wrath of God being satisfied. In some circles that’s a controversial line. Because on one hand, how could God pour wrath on His Son? Yet another part of that discussion is, “well, He was mad at sin”, so the only way for Him to express wrath against the sin was to sacrifice his Son”. What say you?

Stuart: This is a massive question and in one sense I welcome the discussion. I think we always need to be discussing and working through our theology. On a number of doctrinal issues, I’ve tried to come to a place where I can be firm in what I believe, but humble in the way that I hold that. C.S. Lewis would say that God is so far beyond our understanding that we are using poetic terms and ideas to try and express the inexpressible. We are trying to grapple with the gray unknown.

The song was not written as some sort of reformed doctrinal statement, to force people into a position on whether the understanding of atonement including the wrath of God is actually true or not. I reject the image that some people have that God is so angry that Jesus had to appease Him. But the point I’d want to make is that that the wrath of God does not preclude his love. God is love. So there is an element of wrath.

WL: Tell us about your new project, Courage. You’ve included family as part of this recording, and the musicianship is absolutely superb! I really appreciated the variety of musical influence. Some of the songs will have a multi-genre appeal, which is extremely rare. Can you elaborate on your approach?

Stuart: It surprises and saddens me that as a genre we seem to have settled on a very narrow rock style as ‘the sound of worship’. It’s something we learned from U2 in the ’90s and we’ve been doing it ever since! I don’t know if it’s a question of taste or talent (because it does only require 6 chords!), but it seems to me there is so much more music out there to use to express our worship. 

So it’s been a conscious decision for me in the last few years to use fiddle, whistle, accordion, and banjo for live work and recording, to introduce an acoustic folk sound into our worship. On this record, we’ve used a little more sequenced synth stuff on a few tracks, as well as influences of folk, country, choral, Tom Waits-style ballad and Sufjan Stevens. All kinds of music I really love, and all of which bring something different to our experience of worship. I just hope people are able to embrace it as worship while recognizing it’s using a slightly broader palette of colors then they are used to.

First Steps to Becoming a Multicultural Worship Leader

By Nikki Lerner

Worship leading is not the same in every church and in every culture in the United States. Do your worship leading gifts work everywhere? Are you confident that you would be able to lead worship in any cultural context where you may find yourself? I want you to have an overwhelming sense of YES when you think about these things.

In Ephesians Chapter 4, the Apostle Paul tells the believers in the church of Ephesus to “lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” We can never assume, no matter how long we have been leading, that we have learned all that we need in order to be effective as leaders of God’s multicultural body of Christ. It’s time to learn.  

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.

Who teaches you how to lead worship in a fellowship where the people may have a different ethnic background than you? Who coaches you on the best way to lead an immigrant population? Would you know what to do? Would you feel the same sense of confidence in yourself as a worship leader being called by God, or would your cultural come-from feel like a hindrance to you? Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know when it comes to leading cross-culturally and this is the perfect time in the history of the American church where we need to take the position as learners.

Get training in the area of culturally diverse worship leading.

Over the last 20 years, I have worked to build the ministry at the church where I have been leading. A strong, thriving multicultural church where over 52 different nations are represented in its congregation. One of my greatest joys leading this ministry has been the development of volunteer worship leaders who come right out of the church community. Many of the people that I get to work with have had experience leading worship in mono-cultural environments. All White-American, or all African-American, or all Korean-American, or within environments that were all one particular age. Most people have not thought about leading in environments where there is a mix of people who come from different ethnic backgrounds. Just because you have been leading for years, mono-culturally it doesn’t always mean that you have the training you need to lead cross-culturally. In fact, you may find out very quickly that much of the training you have received up until the point you are in front of a diverse crowd has all come from one cultural groupusually your own.

3 Ways to Begin Your New Learning As A Multi-Cultural Worship Leader:

  1. Find a worship-leading mentor who is different than you in ethnic background, experience, and/or gender. Ask them if you can learn from them for 6 months to a year. Be very clear about your intentions to learn and to broaden your own worship leading toolbox in order to be an effective leader to more cultures than just your own.
  2. Expand your musical playlist. If you continue to only pick songs from the CCLI top 100 or your favorite local gospel radio station you will continue to fish in a culturally and musically segregated pool. Ask friends that are of different ethnic come-froms what they are listening to. Take a Sunday off and visit the local Vietnamese Christian congregation down the street or the local Sudanese or Russian congregation and listen to the songs that they sing. Talk to the worship leaders after the service and ask them about their worship leading strategies and philosophies.
  3. Read. A lot. Remember, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.  Be sure to pick up some resources by people who have been practitioners in the field of intentional multicultural worship leading and learn some new strategies. Be intentional about reading books written by people who are a different ethnic culture than you for a broader perspective on ministry, leadership, and team-building. Here are three books to get you started:
    1. The Beginner’s Guide to Crossing Cultures by Patty Lane
    2. Gracism: The Art of Inclusion by Dr. David Anderson
    3. Leading with Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore

Effective worship leading in the 21st century and beyond will not be about songs, but about inclusivity and culturally rich expression for God’s multicultural body. Your greatest asset as a growing, multicultural worship leader is curiosity. Stay curious and lead inclusively.


Nikki Lerner is a cultural coach, teacher, and gifted vocalist with over 20+ years as a practitioner of multicultural worship leadership in the local church.  Along with three recording projects, Nikki is also the co-author of the book Worship Together: In Your Church As In Heaven. You can connect with Nikki at www.nikkilerner.com  

The Doctor Is In

By Dr. Craig Gilbert

I want to help Worship Leaders, Pastors, Music Directors, really anyone in ministry, with the tough questions that challenge us in our head and heart.

Share your question with Dr. Craig Gilbert:




I have been volunteering for a while as a player in my church band. Recently, we needed a new leader. The pastor and church board asked the band who might be able to step up and everyone looked at me. I felt like this was God saying it was my moment so I said, “Ok.” But now that I am trying to do this week after week, I am really afraid that I don’t know what I am doing and questions keep me up at night. What if the pastor and church members don’t like how I lead? What if I make a mistake, on stage, on a Sunday morning? What happens if I let God down?

When I am asked this question, I remember my own experience telling people I did not know if I was a good enough player, singer, or leader. But when I dug down and got real honest, my true fear was that I was not spiritual enough to be a worship leader. It is ironic that the very trait that makes us desirable as leaders, the fact that we care so much, is exactly the trait that can make us very fragile and uncertain in our leadership.

If you find yourself in some of these times, well-intentioned souls may tell you that doubting is not from God. They are right. There are a lot of scriptures that call us not to doubt but to trust in God. For some people, they can find comfort in those words and can rise up with a new found resilience in their faith. But others need to know they are not alone in their fears before they can begin to find their faith.

Let me share with you the words of another leader who had doubts like ours.

Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?

Exodus 3:11

Moses had a lot of doubts and argued with God over God’s call on his life. There are others in the Bible who did this as well. Have you ever spent some serious time in the Psalms? There is doubt, fear, hurt, anger and more directed at God.

When we step up to lead, doubt is a natural follower. The question is, do we dwell in that fear and doubt, or do we turn it over to the Lord?

The origin of Christian worship is the synagogue worship of the Israelites in Babylonian captivity. They had lost their land, their temple, and were in danger of losing their identity. To prevent that from happening they would gather and tell the stories of God. They would sing songs and pray. They would teach on the works and promises of God. The goal was to remember who God was and what God had done so that they could have faith that God would not forget them. Do you think they doubted? You bet they did.

Fast forward to Christian worship today.

“I think, when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him, it is quite time for us to begin to say, ‘Ah, poor soul, I am afraid you are not on the road at all, for if you were, you would see so many things in yourself, and so much glory in Christ more than you deserve, that you would be so much ashamed of yourself, as even to say, ‘It is too good to be true.’”

Charles Spurgeon

Our role as worship leaders is to tell the stories of God, God’s work and God’s promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ so that the people of God can have faith that when they are troubled, God will not forget them either. What we have to remember is that those promises apply to us as leaders as well. Is it easy? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, but there will be a sunrise after the dark. So worship leader, trust your call, trust your church, and most of all, trust your God.

“The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble … Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints.”

Charles Spurgeon


Dr. Craig Gilbert is the founder and lead consultant of PurposedHeartMinistries.com. With over 25 years of experience leading and designing worship for churches of all sizes, Dr. Gilbert is a qualified expert in the area of worship renewal. A gifted speaker, teacher and writer with an international reputation, Dr. Gilbert provides guidance to many churches across the country and across the globe on a variety of congregational worship issues through various conferences, regional worship events, and local, on-site church coaching. The Adjunct Professor of Worship at the University of Houston Graduate School, Craig is also a national faculty member of the National Worship Leader Conference and a member of the Advisory Board of Worship Leader Magazine.