How I Pick A Song

How I Pick A Song.

The Bible makes frequent reference to singing new songs to the Lord. Psalm 33:3 is the verse I usually site, but it’s found all through the Psalms, in Revelation, and various other passages.

There’s good reason to sing new songs and to be intentional about doing so.

-Fresh expressions of an ever fresh faith.
-New songs written by new believers
-It’s easier to have slow transition in a church’s music than one great leap.
-Obedience to scripture.

And so on.

Recently someone asked me how I picked the songs I lead and I had a rambling answer that was only vaguely coherent, so I’ve been working on putting a better one together in my head, this is what I’ve got so far.

1. Passion
2. Lyrics
3. Music

Let me unpack


This is probably the most vague of all my criteria in picking new songs, but a song has to have passion.

To me this means that it has to have a Passion for God. For His glory. For Jesus. For the promise of His coming. For the work of the Spirit. For the Death on the Cross. For the Resurrection.

The worship leader also has to have a passion for the song. It’s hard to lead a song if you don’t care about it.

The church has to have passion for it. One church loves a song, another church won’t. There’s not really a rhyme or reason to it. I’ve lead a song at one church and it really connected with the saints there. Then at a different church it was either hated or just not cared about. Basically in this case I’ll give a song a few tries and if its not really connecting with the people then I won’t force it.


Words matter. Unlike other forms of music, community worship is all about words.

-The Lyrics have to be biblical.

-The Lyrics have to do the job (call to worship, praise, devotion, not just any song will do)

-The Lyrics should be good. This is subjective I know, but we are called in Luke 10:27 to love the Lord with all our minds and I feel like poor grammar and cliché word choices don’t fit the bill. It’s personal opinion I know but I feel strongly about this point.


I break the last section into three sub sections.

1. Community
2. Sound
3. Personal


Does the music lend itself to corporate worship? Song worship in the church is essentially a sing-a-long. Some of my favorite songs aren’t good sing-a-long tunes, and while I might find great personal worship times with them, they won’t work in a church service.

Also, in community, is what is the community ready for? If you’re leading praises at a traditional church it probably wouldn’t be the best thing to jump into a modern sound next Sunday. How a church deals with transition will vary but music does have to be looked at with a view towards community.

Traditional church music appeals generally to an older group. Contemporary Christian music is actually geared to soccer mom’s in their 30’s and 40’s.

If you only do one sound or style then you exclude the whole of the community in favor of one part.

How I see this worked out at my church is that we have a wide cross section of people and an equally wide cross section of worship expression. My leading will connect with different people in a different way than the guy the next week and visa versa. I don’t like the music of every worship leader we have, but I love that they are there doing it because then the whole of the church is served.


As a musician I can pull off a certain sound or kinds of sounds. I also know that some musical sounds I like but they wouldn’t work well for song worship or they are out of date.

So I ask: Can I play this song? Should I play this song? Is this a song that makes sense musically?

I knew a guy who went to a very “old school” church that did old Weselyan hymns for their song worship. Written with great passion for God. Solid lyrical content. Musically they were funeral dirges that were foreign to the times and culture the church operated in.

Humans connect emotionally to music. I put a lot of folk/rural/country music in my sound because I go to church in an area where the country music stations are constantly at the top of the charts. Rock and Pop stations do well. Experimental techno (which I enjoy) not so much. But a church in the heart of NYC or London would do well to have some kind of electronic expression of worship. If a person is connected to the music it helps them express their worship of Jesus.


I recognize the people I serve with. Some are really talented musicians. Some are like me and just happy to be here. So the people playing affect song choice… and song choice affects the people asked to play.

What does it all mean?

All of these things enter into my thinking as I lead. I only teach so many new songs in a given year. This is just the summation of my thinking in how I try to be intentional about it.

Behind the Music: How Great Thou Art

I’d be lying if I said that this song wasn’t one of my favorite to sing and lead. I like where the song takes me, both lyrically and musically. I like the song’s versatility in that it can be serious and somber, or loud and ruckus (which is how I prefer it). I’m not alone in my admiration for the hymn as it was voted America’s 2nd favorite hymn (after Amazing Grace) in a 2001 survey by Christianity Today magazine. BBC’s TV show “Songs of Praise” declared it “Britain’s favorite Hymn”.

The song has travelled on an unusual path with authors through at least 5 countries over 2 contents. The Original song O Store Gud (O Great God) was written in Sweden by a 25 year old pastor named Carl Boberg in 1885. It became popular in his native country and in churches in Swedish ex-patriot communities in Europe. It was translated into German in 1907 (where it again became popular) and from German to Russian in 1912. It was in Russia that a British missionary named Stuart Hine heard the song and eventually translated it into English, adding 2 verses of his own original composition in 1931 (published 1949). The song rose to popularity in American in the mid-50’s at the early Billy Graham crusades.

I love the song because it calls Christians to THINK (think, consider, see) about all the God has done and will do in our world and to respond in worship: THEN sings my soul. The singing, the worship comes in response to THINKING about all the great things God has done.

Songs of Our Youth



Reality San Fransisco is giving away a 4 track EP for free HERE

I’ve been enjoying it this morning, and I’d encourage you to watch the video posted on the site that explains the story behind the EP

It goes great with the mix I had going in the house that was heavy with Sufjan Stevens, Ra Ra Riot, and a great worship band called The Sing Team

The Electric: Overdrive, Distortion, and Noise

Each Week I’ll try and address different aspects of the practical side of playing electric guitar in church music.

This week we’ll talk about using the electric guitar and distortion: How Much is Too Much? or how I learned to Stop Worrying and love my TS9.

This conversation is pointless in certain churches so let’s assume that yours isn’t one of them and it would be ok for you as the electric guitarist to have a “dirty” tone signal of some kind. At that point you would be talking about 3 Basic Catagories: Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz.The Wikipedia definition of these three is as follows: The terms “distortion”, “overdrive” and “fuzz” are often used interchangeably, but they have subtle differences in meaning. Overdrive effects are the mildest of the three, producing “warm” overtones at quieter volumes and harsher distortion as gain is increased. A “distortion” effect produces approximately the same amount of distortion at any volume, and its sound alterations are much more pronounced and intense. A fuzzbox (or “fuzz box”) alters an audio signal until it is nearly a square wave and adds complex overtones by way of a frequency multiplier.

How Do I Get These Sounds?


The easiest way to get a overdriven tone is to crank your tube amp and let it “break up”, which is how they did it back in the 60’s before pedals. I have a Vox AC4 that can be turned down from 4watts to 1/4 watts and it’s gets a great ‘dirty’ sound without being over bearing.


There are countless pedals and effects out there that will get you the sound you want or need.

What Do I Use?


Generally speaking for church bands this is the one I would go with. It’s warmer, cleaner, and clearer. I have 3 on my board: a Xotic AC Booster, a Ibanez TS9, and a Fulltone Plimsoul.

The AC boost is really just a “dirty” clean boost and I treat it as such with barely any over drive. I use it for rhythm parts that don’t need much edge but a little bit of punch. I also can use it for the clean boost if I needed to for a lead part.

The TS9 is the middle of the road, and I use it for my straight overdrive sound on Rhythm and some lead parts. (Tip: this pedal is used by EVERYONE from Joe Banamassa to The Edge, it is THE go to pedal. there are better ones out there, but this is a great one to start with.)

The Plimsoul is the most versatile of the three and before I got my TS9, I used the Plimsoul like the TS9, but now that I’ve got one, I have the Plimsoul set for a harder clipping mild distortion sound. I use it for songs that need that punch.


This is up to you. I stay away from distortion pedals in general because I prefer overdrive and fuzz. You know what would best serve the song, and by extension the church. But in general you may find that you get a better fit from just cranking a tube amp than a Boss Metal Zone. Where I would use distortion for church music is if you had your volume down a little or you were using it to add “layers” and atmosphere, especially in a minor key song (Exalt the Lord, More Love, Rise Up Oh Men Of God, etc)


Same as distortion. You know what will fit with your church or youth group or band. I love the sound of a good fuzz pedal. I own a Sovtek Big Muff PI which is a cross between a distortion and fuzz box. I haven’t put it on my board for worship yet, but it is possible it’ll get on there eventually.

Where Do You Use Your Pedals?

It’s up to you. You know what best fits your sound, the songs you are playing, and the church you are serving.

When I’m leading worship with an electric i keep the sound pretty simple, clean tone or mild overdrive, maybe with some reverb and I don’t change much through out the whole set.

When I’m backing up the leader with an electric, I listen for what’s going on, and I tend to use the TS9 or Plimsoul for more up beat songs, the AC boost if i want a “cleaner” sound for the rhythm parts. I use the Plimsoul or eventually the Big Muff to strum Whole Notes or finger pick lightly to “fill in the sound” and give the song “atmosphere” especially on minor chord songs.

What’s The Point?

The point as always is to glorify Jesus, serve His church and make good music. These pedals and effects are just tools for that purpose. If you know how to use and utilize guitar effects you’ll have more tools to offer in building the sound of the church’s music.

Behind the Music: He Giveth More Grace

He Giveth More Grace is one of the first “new” songs we’ve done at Calvary:Arlington. The version we do uses the original lyrics and new music written by Pastor Brett Williams from Calvary Chapel on Whidbey Island.

The song was written by Anne Johnson Flint, who by the age of 6 had lost both her parents. By her teens she had developed arthritis and soon after lost the use of her legs. Bedridden, she was covered with sores and lost control of her hands and many of her bodily functions.

The song itself was published in the 1940’s during a time of war, suffering, pain and loss.

If anyone could have been excused for writing dark and depressing lyrics it would have been a woman like Anne Flint. Instead, she focused on Jesus and the lyrics that she was inspired to write were of hope and faith.

In the Revelation of Jesus, where the writer John sees the throne room in heaven and the question is asked “who is worthy to redeem the Earth from it’s bondage of sin?” and the answer was given that no one on Earth or in Heaven was found worthy, John began to wail with tears in despair. This would have been a very understandable response for a lady like Anne Flint. People will far lesser trials easily succumb to despair and despondency. But like the Apostle John, Miss Flint saw “the Lamb who had been slain” and then saw hope for her life and her world.

This is not easy believe-ism. This is not “feel good” faith. This is a desperate clinging to the only hope humanity has. Like a shipwrecked sailor clings to a piece of wood, we who are believers cling to the cross of Calvary from where our hope comes from. We cling to the reality of an empty tomb for the strength to live a world that has caused men and women far greater than ourselves to surrender to hopelessness.

The message of the Christian faith is not the way for us to be strong. It is the realization that we have no strength. It is the moment when, like in a tag team wrestling match, we tap out and let God do the fighting for us.

I sing songs like these as a prayer: God give me the faith of people like Anne Flint, and give me the wisdom to seek Your strength and not mine.

“He Giveth More Grace”
by Annie Johnson Flint – (1866-1932)
He giveth more grace as the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as the labors increase,
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials His multiplied peace.

His Love has no limit; His grace has no measure. His pow’r has no boundary known unto men. For out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.