cultivating synergy between the message & the music

I mentioned in the previous post that one of the things that impresses me about Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio is their sense of cooperation and teamwork on stage. One leads worship and the other is speaking but they are on the same page, working towards the same goal and it shows. Chris genuinely is serving the message, before and after it is given, through his music. On the other side of the spectrum I have been in worship services that are like cafeteria trays, every item has it’s own little quadrant with fiercely demarcated borders keeping each item on the plate from touching or having anything to do with each other. You can almost get spiritual whiplash moving from the singing to any media that is utilized to the message because there is no cohesion or big picture things are moving towards.

I believe that there are some very practical steps you can take that will help foster synergy between the worship leader and the pastor and will help you move towards a more seamless flow in services. These are things that work for us at fresh life and every church is different and has more or less complicated needs but hopefully some of what we have learned can be helpful, however much it has to be tweaked to be implemented in your specific situation.

Of great concern, first of all, is the choice of your worship leader. A lion share of the platform time will be occupied by this individual and so you need to choose both prayerfully and carefully for the right fit. It doesn’t matter how great the message may be–if the music is bad that accounts for half of the service so choose wisely (worship leaders the same is true in reverse so u choose carefully too!) For church planters and small churches this can be really difficult because your options are limited, you might even be your own worship leader. That’s tough. In the mean time, keep it SIMPLE. Less is more. Someone who is just cutting their teeth leading worship will have an easier time handling a stripped down setup with just a 2 or 3 piece band than trying to wrangle a full stage of musicians with epic solo’s and 19 backup vocalists and a guy with a cowbell.

Once you have the right fit make sure they get the vision. How can they know if they are succeeding or failing if they don’t know your expectations? Are you frustrated that your worship leader isn’t nailing it? Do you think have any concept of what “nailing it” is to you? Have you ever gone to lunch with them and shared what you like, what you don’t, heard from them, and talked about different styles, approaches and philosophies. You might be surprised by the fact that you are both operating under different definitions of success. Maybe they have been wanting to go more rock and roll but they thought you dug the acoustic stuff. It could be that they don’t really like having dancing leprechauns and videos behind the words on the screen either, but they never thought to say anything about it. It also helps to build and foster the friendship. Spend life and time together, building inside jokes and a good relationship will only add to the dynamic and chemistry that will be evident during times of public ministry. Kevin Guido, our Creative Arts Pastor and head worship leader at Fresh Life, is one of my best friends on the planet and we have a lot of fun together, no matter what we are doing.

By far, what will help build this coherence in the service is to involve them in the sermon building process. For us, this begins months out when series ideas are being developed and brainstormed. The worship leader shouldn’t be blind-sided by what is coming down the pike but right there with you riding the wave of creativity and momentum. The next study should be inspiring them early on as you move towards it and they can be seeking God and preparing their heart as it approaches. Then each week as you gear up for the weekend (for us by Thursday) I email the outline and text and any additional thoughts on and as soon as my rough draft is done I send that out too. Sometimes there will also be a phone call or cup of coffee thrown in the mix as well if my “passion runneth over” I want him to know how the message begins, and ends, see the application and have more than enough info to craft the music around the message. This btw is why it is key that you have someone you trust and respect, and not just someone who has a great voice and can play the guitar. They need to really get it.

Every once in a while there is a special song that I will specifically request but I try to do that sparingly as it can hamper creativity if I am basically choosing the set list each week. Quite honestly, I am often blessed to find them choosing a song that I thought would fit perfectly but didn’t say anything about–those are times I give God a high-5 for having us on the same page. Other times I will be surprised by how a song I never would have thought of will really complement what God is doing in that service. (And occasionally I will feel a particular song is super appropriate for a service but we don’t want to include it in the worship per se so we will pre-roll the service with it or include it as a music bed for a video.)

This all admittedly gets more complicated when you have more than one worship leader. As of right now, we have two campuses and several different worship leaders in the mix. And so I rely on my Creative Arts Pastor to be the funnel that distributes and monitors the vision, song-selection, teams and overall implementation of what happens on the worship front in all aspects of our growing church. This limits the cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. I communicate with him and he communicates it with the others involved at Fresh Life Creative.

Like I said earlier, this is stuff that we have found helpful and if you can grab something, killer–but I’d love to hear what has worked for you at your church as well, leave a comment and let me know what you think.


This week I attended Catalyst West, a leadership conference in Southern California. There were some great speakers like Andy Stanley and Mark Driscoll and some provokative insights on how to better leverage the power of social media in the church. As you would expect from Catalyst, it was very well organized and full of energy and also a little over the top. For example, the Samoan dancers in loin cloths flicking their tongues and flexing their pecs to the war drums was a little disturbing…

Without a doubt, the highlight of the conference was the evening with Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio. They didn’t have any laser-shooting robots, or comic sketches or loin-cloths. It was just a simple and powerful night of worship and the Word. It rocked. Jennie and I both experienced God doing eternal things in our hearts as we worshipped and were ministered to by Louie’s talk and we left recharged and refreshed.


I had never heard Louie speak in person before, though I have been impacted and blessed by his ministry for years. One of the biggest things I enjoyed watching was the partnership between Chris and Louie on stage. Though one spoke and the other sang, you could tell that they were working together for the same cause through the whole night. As I watched, I thought of Ira Sankey and DL Moody, Cliff Barrows and Billy Graham–examples of worship leader/speaker teams that were united powerfully. And it clearly makes a big difference when God melds two different hearts together to be used in harmony in this way.

I think I am going to post soon about some things that you can do to try and get and stay in sync with your worship leader.

6 years today!

Six years ago today, on a Friday morning, I woke up single for the last time. I am so thankful for that–for many reasons. For one thing, I don’t know how much longer I could have survived on the nearly lethal combination of fast-food, Mountain Dew, Ramen noodles and pizza that I lived on as a bachelor.

And for another thing, I married the most rockin’ cool chick ever! These wonderful years with Jennie beside me have been an electrifying thrill. She is my love, my bride, my best friend and my partner in crime. She inspires me and makes me love Jesus more. Happy anniversary Jennie, I love you deeply!

creativity in the pulpit

Nucleus Behind the Scenes

Skull Church After-Party w/ FF5

Preaching off the iPad

photo 2
I had to exercise some serious self-control when I came out of my office on Saturday, the day before Easter, and found that my iPad had been delivered. My message was no where near finished and I knew that if I opened the box it would probably stay that way. So, for the rest of the day it sat next to my espresso machine, casting longing eyes at me whenever I made a coffee. It wasn’t easy, but I did not give in to the siren call of technology until I had wrestled my message to the ground and then I was able to enjoy opening it up.

In all seriousness, the iPad is a great tool, and having preached from it this weekend it fully delivered everything that was lacking from the Kindle DX in the pulpit. (see my previous post on that here) And I love that first thing I ever did with it was preach on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ! I believe that technology exists for the glory of God and we should harness it to make Jesus famous, however we can. Continue reading…

Christ is Risen!

Happy Easter from Jennie, Lenya, Alivia and Levi Lusko!