The Leadworship workshop in Tyler, TX was summed up for me in one incident that occurred in Paul Baloche’s “Leading Worship” class. He has decided to communicate the essentials of what he knows about worship leading, “as if I was being led out to a firing squad after this. These would be my last words.” He is talking about practical and spiritual issues. Then he reminds us of the people we serve every week.
There is a pause.
The room is silent, as award winning songwriter Paul Baloche sits alone onstage and cries for the people he leads in worship in his home church in Lindale every week.
While much of the Leadworship conference is about practical advice, the purpose presented is humble service to God and the congregation every week. I learned lots of practical things, but I was most powerfully affected by God’s call to present a broken heart for Him to use in leadership.
The two-day event started with a soundcheck. We were invited to watch how the band (Carl Albrecht, Ben Gowell, Michael Rossback), which records and tours regularly, sets up for a worship night. Their leader tentatively suggests that people can approach the stage to check out their area of interest. Soon, they are flooded with eager musicians, asking questions, taking photos, and oogling gear. I jokingly suggest to our sound guy Shawn, that he should crash the sound booth while everyone is distracted. He does. Other’s follow. Everyone is getting set up, except Baloche. He can’t find the right adaptor to plug in his headphones, and is waiting for his wife, Rita to arrive – she has his DI box and tuner. It was astonishingly low key, open, and frankly a shambles. It was great. It gave confidence that even the ‘pros’ face sound issues every week.
Later, there is a worship concert. There is no dimming of the house, and then a light show as the band appear onstage. They just get up there, get themselves ready, and begin with a, “Hey everybody!” The evening alternates between the leadership of Paul Baloche and Jared Anderson of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. There is a lot of space for the Holy Spirit to move in our hearts, and He did in mine. Tears flowed as I was reminded of the simple truth that God loves me. It flooded me right when I needed to hear it.
There is another interesting thing that happens that adds to the theme of the conference. There are moments of brevity, laughter, and, well… goofiness. In a break between songs, Baloche says something funny or silly. It doesn’t distract from God, but only serves to tear down the myth of ‘professional worship leaders’. It isn’t about being slick, only about being real.
The second day began with a worship time in which the band changed their setlist completely to accommodate what God was doing in the room at that moment. They then launched into a band workshop, showing how they rehearse and put together songs. The message was this – keep it simple, stupid! Baloche even states that the reason the band sounds so good is because they major in getting the fundamentals right. It’s a lesson for all worship musicians.
The rest of the day was full of classes for whatever your particular interest is – guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, vocal, worship leading, songwriting, sound. The aforementioned worship leading class convicted me, and reminded me to put first things first. The songwriting session was shared between Paul Baloche and Jared Anderson. They both talked through the process of songwriting as they have experienced it, and distilled some basic truths that will hopefully help others to begin their own songwriting journey. I can only speak for the classes I was in, but I’m pretty sure the others had the same emphasis – worship God, serve people. It’s sad that worship team members have to be reminded, but it’s too easy to get caught up in the stuff and the playing, and forget why you’re actually doing this.
Shawn, our sound guy, went to John Mills’ sound engineering class. All I will say is this: inspired by what he learned, Shawn made a couple of tweaks on Sunday morning that drastically improved the sound quality in our church.
Finally, there was a Q&A with the band, but not before video greetings from Martin Smith, Kari Jobe, Travis Cottrell, and Vicky Beeching. Questions were previously submitted by workshop attendees and included, “acoustic kits or electric kits?”, “What do I do if my pastor wants to tell me what to do?” (expertly handled by Jared Anderson), and, “How do I get people to turn up to practice?” Again, the core of each answer was loving God and loving the people of your church.
I had a great couple of days. It was personally spiritually refreshing for me. It was wonderful to be led in worship, not just go to a worship show. I learned lots from the classes I was involved in, and was really glad our sound guy came. If Frank de Jong and Paul ever decide to put this event on again, you and your worship team should go. It was a valuable lesson in how ordinary people, inspired by their love for God, can make beautiful music that glorifies their Lord, and serves the people of the church.