Cloak Words


“Worship is simplicity”

“I’m just here to serve”

“The band should just fade away”

“It’s not a rock show”

“That’s not worshipful”

“We are just being lead by the Spirit”

Cloak Words

Cloak words. You’ve heard them, whether you realize it or not. You may have said them, whether you meant to or not. They are words and phrases that are part of the “christianese” lexicon that we use to cover our real meaning or justify our actions. They sound nice. Maybe true in certain circumstances. But right here and right now they are being used and a disguise to hide our true meaning.

Continue reading “Cloak Words”

Saturday Night Musings.

It’s Saturday night.

I’ll be leading worship at church tomorrow before making the 2hr drive to my parents to celebrate Father’s Day. My Dad Jim passed away when I was 13 but left a legacy of faith in Jesus, love for my mom and us boys, and desire to be a man of God. My mom remarried, and I’ve never called my Dad Brian ‘step-anthing”. He was the man God raised up to stand in the gap and love a a hurting wife and 3 sons. We never felt like we were anything less than his boys, and never felt like he was doing anything less than trying to honor the legacy of Jim.

Now I’m a dad. My own son was born 7 weeks ago tomorrow. Will I leave the same legacy both my dad’s have given me? My mother doesn’t even know her father’s name. It makes me think about how many kids are born without fathers. How many fathers leave and abandon their family and their vows made before God and man. How many father’s are there physically but checked out emotionally. How many fathers make the games and birthdays but have no relationship or destroy what little relationship they have in their wrath and anger.

I’ve been very blessed. i hope to give the same blessings to my son. I hope to be part of calling men in my church to do the same.

Something to think about. The statistics vary but something like 90% of the time, the whole family will follow Jesus if the father does, compared to 20-30% of the time if the mother is leading the home spiritually. The least likely guy to go to church is a guy in his 20’s. This guy (and this is just my experience, no stats) is also the most likely to have a father like the ones I described above: Checked out or never there.

Something to think about when we decide what songs and style of music to do in our worship expression.

The Electric: Getting “That Sound”

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 getting “That Sound”


Have you ever wondered how your favorite guitarist or band gets “that sound”? Maybe you’ve looked up all their gear on the internet. Then maybe you’ve done the math and realized that their gear would cost you what you make in a 5 year period or more. Can you get “that sound” as a normal guy trying to put a rig together on a budget?

What Do You Want?

If you just bought a Boss Metal Zone distortion but want to do country you may be on the wrong track. Define the sound or sounds you want. What do you like? What does your church band play? Do you play other stuff outside of church? My rig has purposely been set up for country (Buddy Miller, Johnny Cash, Ryan Adams), U2/Coldplay (which means i can do any Christian worship band that rips off those bands cough. cough. Hillsong. cough.), and  rock (Death Cab For Cutie, Arcade Fire, Daniel Lanois) and REM (I rip off Peter Buck a lot)

Do Your Homework

There is no way around it. You have to do the research to know what you want, what musical and technical terms mean, and what gear is right for you.

Let’s say you’re an acoustic guitar player who wants to branch out. You’ve had an old Stratocaster lying around and you’ve decided to play more. Start with something as simple as reading the Wikipedia page on Effects Pedals. Learn the difference.

After you’ve learned what kinds of pedals there are and what they do, you’ll have to figure out what you need. Read up. If you like a certain style of music and you find that a lot of the bands you like use the same pedals (Boss DD-3 Delay or Line 6 DL4 Delay for examples) then that would be a starting place.


Let’s say you love August Burns Red and Metallica before the Black album and love to jam at home to those riffs, but the church band you play with wants really bad to sound like David Crowder band. A “metal zone” or similar pedal will pretty much only get you one sound. A Tube Screamer into a tube amp that’s cranked on the “hot” channel with it’s Mids scooped will give you Metallica’s Ride the Lightening, and then if you set the amp to clean it can give you 20 other bands from U2 to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Metallica, U2, SRV all use some version of the Ibanez tube screamer. 1 pedal 3 sounds is a much better value than a single genre pedal.

Most of us are on a budget. Putting a rig together will take time. If you can buy 1 pedal to do the job of two or three then you’ll be better off 9 times out of 10.

Boutique is Not Always Better

Speaking of the Ibanez Tube Screamer. Everyone has one. Brad Paisley, the Edge, SRV. Another pedal that I constantly read about on pro guitar players boards is the Boss DD-3 (or DD-5,6, or 7) or the Boss RV-5 reverb. What I’m saying is that if you read gear forums or blogs or talk to the guy in the Guitar Center trying to upsell you, they’ll for the best sound you really need this [insert more expensive pedal here]. The reality is that a stock TS9 and a lower end TC Electronics Reverb are my go to pedals.

It’s Not Always Pedals.

I was talking to a guy who was asking me how to get the sound and tone from some Hillsong guitar player. I jokingly told him to just rip off the Edge 🙂 But then I looked at the Youtube clip he had sent. The reality was that for all the different pedals he had at his disposal 80% of what was going on was because he was playing through a nice Amp. U2 uses VOX AC-30’s. Coldplay uses Fender Deville’s. Brad Paisley uses Dr. Z. Buddy Miller uses Swart. Metallica used Marshalls and later Messa Boogie’s. The point is that if you have an electric guitar and you have money you’ve saved up you would often be better off getting a good amp than a bunch of effects pedals.

What’s the Point?

It’s worship all about Jesus and not about gear? Yes. but if you look at your pastor’s office you’ll probably find a lot of books (commentaries, maps, histories, dictionaries). Maybe he has a computer with bible software or an ipad with all his notes. These are all tools to preach the gospel and teach the bible. Musical gear are tools make music to praise Jesus, serve His church, and share the gospel or respond to Bible teaching in song. Just as a pastor needs to learn to put a message together, musical servants in the church need to learn how to put a song together. All for the Glory of Jesus.

Don’t Be Afraid To Change The Song

Ever tried to learn a song and thought “this is way too high or way too low for me to sing?” Or “there are way too many chord changes for me” or something like that?

Change The Key

I’m always surprised how many worship leaders feel locked into the “original key” or the charts they got from another worship leader or Internet site.

I’m a baritone, the worship leaders at the church I grew up in were all tenors. The chords I got from them and that make up the base of my chord files are all for their range.

All songs have keys. The Majority of church songs are in G, D, E, or C. A song may be written in Bb for a singer with a high range (Phil Wickham) but most of us would need to drop it down to something singable. Also, women and men have different ranges. If you have chords from a guy worship leader and you’re a lady, you may find that a lot of the “standards” don’t work with your voice, that’s ok, just find the key that works for you. I’ve found that a lot of the songs in G that are two high for me work well in F.

Change The Chords

A lot of the older hymns or Christmas carols were written for pianos or organs with chords and chord changes that don’t work well for guitars or guitar music. Don’t be afraid to figure out what works for you and your band.

When we planted Calvary:Arlington we only had two guitar players to start. But our chords and arrangements were often for full bands from our sending church. So for a few of the songs I had to go in and change the chords and arrangements to work for something different, and as we’ve established a fuller band we’ve had to change other songs from simpler arrangements to ones that work for a larger group.

It Won’t Happen Overnight

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Getting your songs set up to work for you and your band will take time but it’s worth it in the long run. As for Christmas songs, I’m about to go start working on them in the summer so I’m not scrambling come the holidays.

The main thing is not to get locked into what worked for someone else. Be Biblical. Be Authentic. Be yourself

Store Up The Good Times

Today I was watching a video from The Gospel Coalition Website of Jason Meyer and John Piper talking about the transition of leadership at Bethlehem Baptist Church. It’s an interesting video to see how a complex church in another ‘tribe’ handles change and transitions. In the middle of the video Jason talks about a conversation with his wife and how they need to store up the good times. They were going through a season of joy, blessing and clear direction. But he knew the hard times would come and they would need to remember these good days.

How was you last time leading worship? Have you ever had a Sunday when you wanted to pack it in? We need to store up these good times for the times when we get down, or criticized or make a mistake.

Jason’s comments can be found around the 17:20 mark.

Random Thoughts

-If people come to hear the pastor preach, then what’s wrong with them coming to hear the band play?

-How many sermons have been preached about what “worship music is” by preachers who don’t know anything about music and who come in after the song worship is done?

-When you get up instead of sleeping in on Sunday: That is worship

-My pastor asked me to do a song I wouldn’t have picked. He doesn’t do it often and i really hated it he’d listen to my reasons, but it’s good for me to submit, especially this week where I’m feeling feisty.

-Its good to do songs you don’t like sometimes if it serves the people of God
-When you put the cash in the offering box that is often a greater acting of worship then any song you’ll sing that morning.

-Someone asked me once if the band Kutless was punk rock… They aren’t.

-We worship God with our minds when we listen to a sermon and with our whole strength when we choose to follow what the bible says.

-Read Revelation 5 as a worship service. It’s been heavy on my mind the last few days.

-if you’re the music director do you have a “direction” or just a vision for the status quo.

-I love reverb. More reverb.

The Electric: Simplicity

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 being Simplicity in playing.

I love effects pedals. I have a few of them. I’d like more of them. In my free time I read blogs, forums and articles about them. But am I any good without them?

A lot of poor playing and sloppy technique can be covered by effects. It’s part of musical culture now? Can’t sing? Don’t worry, we can fix that, we have effects.

What would happen if you showed up one Sunday sans pedalboard with only your guitar and amp? Could you still do the job required?

Do you know the different sounds you can get from using the pick up selector on your guitar or adjusting your volume? What about your amp?

Maybe the next time you practice, go without the pedals and see what you can do. You may find that it stretches you as a player and that you enjoy the creativity that the simplicity enforces.

Finding Your Place Pt.2


I started playing bass when I was 12. When I was 14 I picked up the guitar. I’ve been playing both ever since. I led worship for the first time at age 14. I learned to practice by playing in bands in high school, and worship teams in my teens and 20′s.

Not everyone who plays in a church band has that kind of background. A lot of good folks learned to play their instrument on their own and don’t know how to play and practice with a band. The following series of posts will be thoughts on how to serve God and His church well, by learning how to practice well. Here’s a few thoughts and musings on “Finding A Place” in the band for you and your instrument.

Part 2: Finding Your Place In The Song.

In this 2nd part of the series I wanted to talk about what you’re doing as a musician in the song itself. When you show up for band practice do you just start playing along right away or do you listen for where you’ll fit in the grand scheme of things? Figuring out where you’re supposed to be and some tips on how to get there.

“One of the most freeing places a musician can come to is the realization that I Don’t Have To Play Right Now.”

What are you playing?

It sounds simple, but the instrument I’m playing effects what I play. Let’s say there’s more than one guitar, if I’m the 2nd acoustic guitar and the electric is doing “lead work” then the band doesn’t really need me to play the same thing as the main acoustic guitar, and it really doesn’t need me compete with the electric for solo work. In this case I would probably just do some light picking or do some sustained chord work to “fill in the sound”. If I’m the keyboardist or guitar player who has the “lead” responsibilities, maybe I’ll back off or just not playing during any parts of the song with singing. Knowing what my role in the song is (which is determined by my instrument) affects where, when, what and how I play.

Should I be playing?

It’s the hardest thing for a musician to do: not play your instrument when it’s in your hands. The flip side of this is that one of the most freeing places a musician can come to is the realization that I Don’t Have To Play Right Now.

If the song is a sparse ballad, then maybe it doesn’t need a driving drum beat. If we are going “all out” on the chorus or the ending, then maybe in the 2nd verse I could just hang back. In other words, sometimes less is more. If I’m the drummer and it’s an uptempo song, maybe its the first song of the Sunday church service, then I need to be ready to rock from the get go. It’s all about being aware of where you’re at, and what’s going on around you.

“Knowing what my role in the song is affects where, when, what and how I play.”

Sometimes I just need to listen

I’ve found that sometimes, when I’m practicing, I just need to drop out for a second and hear what’s going on around me. I want to hear what the band leader is doing, etc, and then jump back in when I have an idea where I fit in. Recently I was doing backing vocals on a song, the first time we practiced it I didn’t sing, I just listened and I figured out where I should jump in, which I decided for this song was the 2nd verse, singing only on every other line and then coming in a bit stronger on the chorus. It gave a nice feel to the vocals on the song. I knew what my role was as the backing vocalist. I didn’t have to sing every line and I learned more by listening than doing. Sometimes it’s the other way around and I figure out my bit from messing around for a minute or two, but even that requires some listening and the maturity (gained over time) to know when and where to just try something out and when to step back and listen for a moment.

We serve by thinking

The key to all of this is using our brain and being aware of what’s going on around us. Luke 10:27 tells us to love God ‘with all our mind”. I take this very literally: God Wants Us To Think. Finding my place in the song by using my brain to know what my role is, what my instrument is supposed to do, and what kind of song it is (ballad vs. uptempo), are all acts of spiritual worship to God. I serve the band I’m playing with by being aware of what’s going on. The band serves the church family by being well practiced. We all serve God in praise, worship, and adoration to Jesus and about Jesus through our God-given ability to express thoughts and feelings through music.

Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs

Hymns, Choruses, What’s the Difference?

Do a Google search on the difference between Hymns and Choruses, and I’ll give you a dollar if you can find a straight answer.

According to Eastman’s Bible Dictionary the word Hymn in the New Testament is used for the benefit of Christians from a Greek Culture to understand. Musically the Jews had used Psalms in their music, whereas the Greek used Hymns. If you read the Psalms, some are long, wordy and epic. Other Psalms are short and to the point, mainly in a section called the “Psalms of Accents” which were to be sung by the people on their way to the feasts in Jerusalem. The basic structure of a psalm lyrically is one continuous thought or theme.

The Hymn on the other hand is generally centered around finishing the lyrical or musical thought at the end of the refrain. Basically in modern form we would say that Hymns are all verses and no choruses.

Then there is the modern Chorus structure: Verse, Chorus, Verse.  The verses build (both lyrically and musically) to the summation thought in the chorus. This is of course a very simplistic view of all of these types of songs but I thought it would be good to lay a foundation for this discussion.

What Type of Songs Should Be Sung In The Church Today?

If there is one thing I’ve learned in 12+ years of leading worship is that just about everyone will have an opinion on song choice.

“Hymns are too old fashioned”

“Those new songs just don’t have the same depth as the old songs”

“That’s NOT a worship song!”

And many more. The point is that there are a lot of different expressions in the history of the church, and all of them are equally valid and invalid in their own ways. Twice, both in Ephesians 5:19, and Colossians 3:16 the Bible tells us to sing in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. These verses have shaped how I see song selection and stylistic expression in the church more than just about any verse in the bible.


In the book of Psalms itself I see both hymns and choruses, but for our purposes, I don’t think I’m too far off to Insert “modern worship songs” for Psalms. I see a lot of good in modern worship songs. The bible tells us over and over to sing “a new song” to the Lord. Amazing Grace, Come Thou Fount, and Be Thou My Vision don’t make the cut for that command. New songs, express the fresh faith, of a new generation of Christians. They also lend themselves well to worship events where Words (overheads, hymnals, etc) aren’t readily available like camp fires and home groups, much like the Psalms of Accents in the Bible.

There are downsides to the modern songs. They haven’t stood the test of time, whereas generally speaking, bad hymns have been forgotten. Not just musically, but there are many modern worship songs with great music but questionable theology or that lack in depth. Many of the criticisms towards modern songs about their lack of depth, unrealistic view of the world (all sunshine, no suffering), Prom Songs to Jesus (if they mention Jesus at all) etc, have some truth to them. Another criticism of modern songs is that many are not in fact modern. What I mean is that if a bunch of musicians with little to no church background became Christians, they wouldn’t write the music that many christians call “contemporary”.


Full Discolsure: I consider myself a modern hymns guy, whatever that means. I like the hymns because they have had the benefit of time letting the cream rise to the top. Musically, I find that Hymns often lend themselves better to Modern musical expressions than the “modern songs” of the church do. I can play Amazing Grace in 10 different arrangements but I can’t figure out more than one way to play “How Great is Our God” by Chris Tomlin. Hymns also have suffering. Suffering is a constant in life and a constant in our churches. 1 in 3 women in your church has been the victim of sexual abuse. People have lost loved ones, they’ve suffered unemployment or disability on the job. Many of the great hymns were written by people who had suffered, they knew what they were singing about. Hymns are also a great musical bridge. I’ve found that, generally speaking, older saints are often more open to a new style or expression in worship if they know the songs, and that as a worship leader, hymns have honestly allowed me to get away with more with the 65 and up crowd.

Spiritual Songs

What does this mean? Aren’t Psalms and Hymns both “Spiritual Songs” by default? I’m not sure what Paul meant when he wrote it but I’ll tell you how I apply it.

“True Love” by Phil Wickham. ‘The Pearl” by Emmylou Harris. “Come to Jesus” by Mindy Smith. “Tears of the Saints” by Leeland. They are not really worship songs. But they are songs that the church can sing together. I see these songs as useful and helpful to the church, but I do them at a ratio: Out of a 6 or 7 song set, I will probably only do 1 spiritual song, if any. I see songs like the ones I mentioned as being very good, but only in the right proportions.

Many churches would see these songs as “specials”. Which is music done more as a performance to the church than music sung by the church. There is nothing wrong with this form of liturgy, but I wouldn’t limit the work that God can do through these songs either. I remember being at a church singing “Yahweh” by U2, when the song started I thought “this isn’t a worship song,” and then in the last verse God spoke powerfully to my heart. There is nothing wrong with doing Spiritual Songs as “specials” but there is also no biblical mandate for it either.

The Real World

I said earlier that the idea of Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual songs had shaped how I lead worship. It’s kept me from embracing just one style or expression of worship. I’m a modern hymns guy but I’ll still lead a Chris Tomlin song. It’s shown me the place for “spiritual songs” in the worship life of the church. It’s lead me to my current attempt to have a wide expression of music and style at Calvary:Arlington. Hymns are not just “the old songs of the church”, and contemporary worship isn’t as contemporary as people say it is.

Whatever songs I pick I try to follow my friend Chad’s rules:

-Well written -Glorifying to God -Somewhat predictable -Poetic and imaginative integrity without obscurity -Sung to God directly, or of His attributes secondarily -Theologically correct -NOT LAME… all to the glory of Jesus.