Archives For worship leading

I have this dream sometimes. It’s usually back in the last church I served as worship leader.  People are gathered in their seats and ready to start a service.  I am supposed to be leading the service, but I have no Team.  I haven’t planned anything.  It’s quiet.  Someone coughs a little.  Awkward.  Oh yeah… and I’m in my boxer shorts.

So this post is one of those trips to the Freudian couch… a “what does it all mean?” exploration of my psyche and my recent thoughts about worship leading.  Good times.  We’ll get back to the boxer shorts in a bit…

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten conflicting reports back on the same day from people I have led in worship over the years.  “It’s a little bit loud…”  “Crank it up guys!”  “We love those hymns…”  “The hymns feel so SLOW to me.”  “Man, I could have worshipped another hour… Why stop after three songs?” “Do you have to do so many songs?” “Love the new songs… keep ’em coming!”  “Can’t we sing some of the old favorites?”

Sound familiar?

That’s why over time I have tried to take every oportunity to teach people about worship in those moments, but I don’t generally let individual comments steer the ship of my decision making when it comes to worship planning.  Unless those individual comments are coming from my Senior Pastor or my wife (can I get an Amen?!), of course.  I figure that for every individual opinion expressed, there is most likely someone with the oposite preference in our congregation.  Therefore, individual opinions and preferences do not steer worship planning policy…  Biblical principles and a Biblically constructed philosophy of worship do.

But I do remember one exception to that rule. Only once do I remember making a significant philosophical decision about worship planning after only ONE concerned comment.  After debuting a new song in our corporate worship setting, a concerned congregant talked to me after the service, and we never used that song again.  I had no problem with it doctrinally or we never would have used it in the first place.  It was personally very effective for me as a worship expression.  But after one conversation, I pulled it from our set list.

Maybe the best way to set this up for you is to ask you to watch and listen to a worship setting that invokes a similar tone.  This is a different song and a different church.  The song itself is equally beautiful, and I believe it is effective as a worship tool.  But it has been publically criticized – written off as emotionally trite, as a sappy “love song to Jesus,” and even as blasphemous.  Listen, think about it, and then we’ll get back to my boxer shorts dream…

What do you think? Opinions vary.  “Makes me weep – it’s so beautiful.”  “Makes me sick – it’s so sentimental.”

Think about the text of this simple chorus:

I wanna sit at Your feet, Drink from the cup in Your hand, Lay back against you and breathe, Feel your heartbeat.  This love is so deep, It’s more than I can stand.  I melt in Your peace, It’s overwhelming…

Songs like this one – and the one I discussed with my friend from our congregation a few years ago – are very very intimate expressions of love and adoration to Jesus.  They invoke the kind of closeness that we see between Jesus and the apostle John, who would recline with his head against Jesus’ chest at times.  They call up a picture of Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, adoring Him.  I think about David, writing “ONE THING I ask of the Lord, and this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.”

Honestly, I think about the kind of intimate love relationship that only a husband and wife know.  Jesus’ Bride, longing to be in His presence.  And that kind of intimacy is meant for private expression – not public display.

So to those who write this kind of expression off as sappy emotionalism, I would say no… not at all.  If that’s ALL a worship setting has to offer, then maybe.  But I know the ministry of Kari Jobe and Gateway Church.  This is part of the worship expression puzzle, in a mix of Biblical teaching and response, hymns and choruses.  Don’t criticize the slivered carrots as an incomplete meal when they come served with steak and potatoes.

I am grateful for recorded (and written) songs like this – intimate expressions of desire to be near and bask in the mercy and goodness and love of Jesus.  They move me.  They help me express worship.  When I am alone with God.

On the other hand, as a worship leader, I have chosen not to lead songs that are this intimate – this private – in a group setting.  I don’t judge others for doing so.  But to me, I feel like I am violating the honesty of the moment by sharing it corporately.  There are songs for the congregation and songs for the prayer closet.

And that brings me back to those quiet dreamy moments, when I’m exposed before the congregation in my boxer shorts.  I’m always scrambling to cover up.  I think a lot of people have those “naked at work” dreams… I suppose they uncover some psychological truth about our insecurities.  All I know is, I feel exposed.  Vulnerable.  On display.

Songs like this make me feel vulnerable, too.  But that’s OK when I’m alone with God.  It’s safe to be honest in an intimate relationship. But in a group, a song like this can make me feel… uncomfortably exposed, on display.  This one – for me – is a song for the closet.

I’m interested to know what you think. Sentimental or Serious?  Private or Public?

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“jesus, love songs, and intimacy in public :: the boxer shorts dream” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

worship music :: worship God

February 24, 2010

Deliver me, O Lord, from pride.  Deliver me, Lord, from idolatry.  Deliver me from the worship of the music we use to worship.  Even without my drums or my voice, You are enough.  If You take away the platform, You are still good.  If it’s You and me in a closet, I am more than satisfied.

Thank you Mars Hill Downtown Seattle for this reminder.  Lead worshippers, don’t get distracted by the tools you use.  Jesus alone.


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“worship music :: worship God” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

There’s this paradox.  It’s a pendulum swinging.  It’s a tug of war.  The truth about God.

God is Holy. God is Love.  God is Righteous. God is Merciful.  God is to be feared. God is to be adored.

You might be a church-goer.  Or not.  You might believe in God loosely, or you might embrace a detailed picture of God.  The God you imagine might belong to someone else.  Or maybe He is YOUR God.  But every one of you has a God-picture inside your mind, and what you think about God largely determines what you think about YOU.  So this God-picture matters.

“What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.”  – A. W. Tozer

My brain is only 3 lbs. of snarled jelly.  God breathed out the universe with a word.  It would take about 140 billion peas to fill Soldier Stadium in Chicago to the top.  That’s about the same number of galaxies astronomers now believe exist in the “known” universe.  Consider that our solar system whirls around only one star of billions in our galaxy.  And our galaxy is only one-pea’s worth in a Soldier Stadium sized universe full of galaxies.  Can you wrap your 3 lbs. brain around that kind of scope?  Nope.  Me neither. But God can measure the universe in the span of His hand.  (Isaiah 40:12)

So when we come to discuss who God is, it is wise to come humbly, recognizing that our deepest thoughts about God are utterly, hopelessly, comically incomplete.  But God does tell us who He is.  What He is like.  The Bible talks about the activity in heaven around His throne.  The angels and creatures surrounding the throne of God, in dangerous proximity to the radiant glory and unstoppable power of God, and they never ever stop repeating… “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come…”


This Sunday as we were preparing for our weekend gathering with our Worship Team, one of the singers on the team said to me, “Holy means ‘other than…’  Every time we sing about God being Holy, I think about that.  He’s ‘other than…’  He’s separate.  I’m just repeating in my heart, ‘You are not like me, God.  You are so much more and so other than me…'”  Thank God for lead-worshipers who embrace humility like that.  She is right.  Both in Hebrew (qodesh) and in Greek (hagios), the Bible’s words for “holy” mean “to be set apart.”

If you go to church, ask yourself an honest question about what you hear about God week to week.  Is the picture of God in your church All-Powerful / Separate / Other-Than?  Or is He reduced somehow to love and grace and your help in time of need?  Is God your friend or is God your God?

The pendulum is swinging for me again.  There is a danger in churches with a deep concern for human souls (read “evangelical,” “seeker-sensitive,” or “outreach-oriented”) to present an approachable God.  A mercy-first, ask questions later God.  Because we want to walk with people across that line of faith.  We know God loves them, and we love them on His behalf.  We ache to see God’s Kingdom expand and souls who were selfish and broken and hurting become whole again and in love with a Savior.  But is the open-arms, big-tent God picture obscuring our view of the Holy, Righteous, Other-Than God.  Is our picture exactly that?  Just “our” picture?

I think the hyper-grace oriented environment many churches seek to offer has robbed us of a proper view of God’s justice and vengeance and holiness.  But God Himself has surrounded His throne with the ringing refrain:  Holy! Holy! Holy!  God’s HOLINESS is the core of His nature.  Yes, God is love, and He is full of mercy, but He does not simply welcome one and all first and ask questions later.  God’s holiness first demands that sin must be accounted for.  Because our sin separates us from God at our very first breath.  He is other than us.

When we humanize God (which is often a step toward deifying man), we lose the breathtaking view of God’s holiness that is required for us to understand and properly grasp the WONDER of the gospel.  That God Almighty, Creator of whirled peas – all surpassing otherness – would stoop to love us.  Three lbs. of flawed self-righteous nerve gelatin.

And the Answer is JESUS.  Perfection, holiness, all-powerful righteousness bleeding out in pain on a cross in place of me.  In place of you, too.  That God’s perfect “other-than” justice might be satisfied.  Breathtaking mercy.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

So I’m getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I want to tremble when I think about God.  Because I tremble when I think I might be getting more comfortable with Him.  God my provider, my personal counselor, my friend.  He is those things to me.  But He is other than me. Amazing grace.

What is your God picture?  Is your church’s God picture honest? Do you understand how awesome it is that other-than God became a same-as man… for you?

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“separated at birth :: whirled peas and God’s holiness” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Christian hair has taken on new meaning. What follows is an honest, amused ramble through a minefield of questions I have about the current state of worship leading and those who lead worship in our contemporary Christian churches in America.  For full disclosure:  I am one.

I actually grew up using the term “Christian hair” as a somewhat deragatory, yet playful descriptive term for the over-eager bouffant coiffure of the professionally religious.  Think Benny Hinn meets Roy Orbison meets an oscilating fan and a gallon of Aqua Net.  On steroids.  Bingo!  Christian hair.

Now the scene has changed.  And while the aforementioned variety of Christian hair can still be spotted occasionally in the seventy+ crowd at Denny’s and on TBN, there’s a new ‘do taking the hip church scene by storm.  It’s equal parts, “heck yeah!” and “did you mean to do that?”  I affectionately call it “The Pete Wilson.  For full disclosure:  I totally love Pete Wilson.  His blog is fantastic.  His ministry is biblical, powerful, and Spirit-led.  And his hair does things my thinning mane of glory dreams about as I sleep.  Further, he’s a Senior Pastor – not a worship leader – so he’s out of bounds for this discussion.  And yet…

Fellow Lead Worshippers, help me understand…  What’s with the hair? I’m not talking about simple personal style choices here.  You can effectively lead worship with almost any kind of hair… spanning the panoply of the style choice rainbow.  From the sleek simplicity of  Carlos Whittaker to the crazed fro-tee combo of David Crowder.  And yet…

I’m in a minefield here.  I can feel it.  I’m asking deeper questions about heart conditions and motivations which are not so deftly disguised as style questions.  Skipping stones off the surface to see what lies beneath.  Fellow Lead Worshippers, help me understand…  Without an accusing tone – without any self-righteous pride – and without a sense of smug superiority masquerading as humble opinion – some of what’s happening in our contemporary churches makes me go, “hmmm.”

Several years ago I was asked to be the Worship Coordinator for the national youth convention of a conservative church association.  As our Board discussed some of the feedback that had come back from the previous convention, we were literally asked to consider hiding the worship team behind a screen, so the focus could remain on the Lord during worship.  We politely declined the request – but the fact that it was suggested I think establishes a POINT A for the extreme conservative position when it comes to contemporary worship leading:  We would prefer no contemporary leader at all (“After all, there’s no ‘Worship Leader’ position in the New Testament…”), but if you must be up there, please lead quietly… and off to the side.

POINT Z on the style scale is usually found in the “Seeker Sensitive-ist” of contemporary churches.  And I don’t use that term with even a hint of negativity.  Rather, as a means of identification.  These are churches who have invested a healthy sum of resources into a projection system and theater lighting that rivals even the hippest of pop-culture bands touring today.  Here’s an excercise for you.  Look at the picture at the top of this post for 10 seconds and see if you can positively ID the scene as a Country Music concert or a high-tech contemporary worship setting.  Go!

It wasn’t until I spotted the bouncers in the front of the stage that I was sure this was an entertainment venue and not a contemporary worship setting.  Although, if Tomlin was leading, the bouncers MIGHT be necessary, so…  Well, point made.

On the style scale between the ultra-conservative POINT A and the hippest of techno-pop POINT Z churches, our church is probably at about the QRS level.  A mix of hymns and choruses and creeds and prayers, both loud and quiet, both tender and rocked out.  No suit coats.  No designer jeans.  No Christian hair… and no Christian hair.  We sometimes wear Levi’s.  We like to dim the lights when we use video clips.  But no lasers.  No fog machines.  No flashpots or strobes.  We are trying to be authentic in our worship, honest and complete in our presentation of Biblical truth, and welcoming to both the seasoned church attender and the non-church types who are simply curious about Jesus.  We think this neighborhood will connect best to about a QRS on the hipness scale.

And I guess there’s my question for those of you farther down the alphabet.  For you XYZ types.  Are we trying to inspire the Church to focus their attention on the Lord?  And if we are, how exactly does the hip hair and the designer jeans and the breathtaking lightshow NOT distract the worshippers?  It’s an honest question.

Before I became a worship leader by occupation, I attended an amazing church – a large church with several thousand attending each weekend.  Their ministry had a HUGE impact on me as a worship leader, not because it was flashy, but specifically because it was not.  It was authentic.  It was excellent musically.  And it was SIMPLE in it’s presentation.  Lights down before the service.  Lights fade up as the service begins.  Simple wash of the platform.  And then worship happened with deep reverence and genuine humility.  And just regular guy hair.

I don’t claim to have a corner on the market of what is the BEST way to lead worship.  I’m just a dude leading a group of Jesus-loving artists who lead a Jesus-loving congregation.  And I always watch what other leaders are up to.  I learn from you.  Constantly.  But I wonder sometimes why you do the things you do.  If you saw me, you’d have a pile of questions, too, I’m sure.  So from one brother to another – from one Levite to the rest a y’all with a ton of grace- help me understand the grandiosity and the flash.

Where does your ministry fall on the style alphabet?  And more importantly… WHY?


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“leading worship with awesome hair :: God, humility… and lasers” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

davidDanced :: why iWorship

January 14, 2010

On Sunday, January 10, 2010, I spoke at Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.

This is the story of David, the King of Israel, dancing with joy before the Lord as the Ark of the Covenant is being brought back into Jerusalem.  A story about God’s unchanging character, the power of His presence, and David’s response.

Key Scripture Passages:  I Samuel 4:3-11;  II Samuel 6:12-22;  I Chronicles 13:7-14  and  15:25-29

Either I have no face, or this is a low resolution video.  Have no fear… choose option B.  My face is intact.  My apologies for the low-res image.

Sunday morning December 20, 2009 was an epic day at Living HopeSara Renner and the Elements joined us for our Christmas Celebration.  And it was a party.  But it was also fascinating to watch as a ministry leader.  This was powerful, and I don’t want to miss the take-aways for us in ministry.

Sara is a working musician here in the Twin Cities with national range.  Hockey fans may recognize her.  She was chosen to sing the national anthem at the Excel Energy Center before every home game for the Wild last year.  But her real passion is WORSHIP and praise of Jesus Christ.  The Elements are a team of hand picked musicians who share her love for God and excel in their craft.  Sara and her team of friends truly make up some of the best musicians the Twin Cities has to offer.


In Sara’s words,

“Music can move you… but it can’t change you.  It can’t heal you.  It can’t set you free.  Only God can do those things.  All of the things that we rehearse, all of our gifts and our talents are meaningless without the anointing of God.  And so, in our lives we try to reflect a real faith in Christ, and in our music we try to be excellent, but more than anything, we pray that God’s Spirit comes and changes people through what we do.”

Sara brings a level of excellence that communicates fearlessness and humility at the same time.  Mix that with spiritual maturity, deep joy, and a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and the results are exuberant.  It’s a contagious faith on display.

You can hear freedom in the keyboard solo by Billy Steele.  Fearlessness.  Joy.  It’s more than skill.  It is true spiritual freedom for Billy and for Sara.  I want to be a better musician, so I can be a more fearless leader, so I can communicate joy with greater freedom.  And if the focus remains on Jesus, He gets the credit.  He gets all the glory.

Sara Renner and the Elements performing live in concert at Living hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN. December 20, 2009.  This was the end of the closing song in the concert. A great end to our Living Hope Christmas Celebration.

Outstanding musicianship and authentic joy in Jesus.  Humility and fearlessness.  Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.  And always – always – always keeping the focus on Jesus Christ.  Those were my take-aways.  Those are ministry markers I will strive for.

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“sara renner and the elements live at living hope :: fearless joy” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Our worship ministry team at Living Hope Church is AWESOME.

Now, don’t misread my enthusiasm for pride.  We’re not the most gifted musicians, and we are certainly not mighty in number or prolific as songwriters, influencing the global Church for Jesus.  There are better sounding teams, bigger teams, better-known teams.  But you’d be hard pressed to find a TEAM with as much love for each other and sense of SHARED PURPOSE.  I love these people like family, and I trust them.  We depend on each other, and I believe we are living out Philippians 2…

…make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose…

When I reflect on why this bunch of friends works and ministers together so well, I think it has much to do with that Philippians 2 spirit.  We know what we are called to do.  Everyone is on the same page.  We don’t wrestle with multiple philosophies and competing values, because we have spelled out our purpose and our values explicitly, and we agree on them as a Team.  It’s true that we value excellence in our music and our art, but more importantly, we are all focused on the same audience of One when we lead together.

Here’s a question for those of you in Worship Ministry:  Has your team written down your core values and your purpose as a team?  If not, why not?

Carefully crafting a clear purpose statement and core values has some MAJOR LEAGUE advantages:

(1)  Unified language brings clarity to vision.  When leaders do the hard work of carefully word-smithing a purpose statement that is both clear and simple, the whole organization can align themselves with that vision much more efficiently.  Greater alignment to the vision means more synergy, and the team is able to be more effective. (Insert standard disclaimer here about the reality that God alone is responsible for any lasting change in a person’s spiritual condition…)

(2)  Shared expectations leads to greater accountability.  My greatest sin as a leader is my adrenaline addiction.  It leads me to rush everywhere and show up a few minutes late to everything.  Rehearsals included.  I don’t let myself off the hook for it.  I choose the uncomfortable tension of constantly restating the standard and apologizing to the team every time I am late, rather than accepting a “well, it doesn’t really matter – that’s just the way we operate” mentality that would allow me to comfortably continue to waste my friends’ valuable time.  And here’s the beauty of shared expectations… NO ONE has to be the bad guy.  No one on the team has to pull me aside and give me the talk about how I need to shape up.  I know I need to be on time.  The team knows we all need to be on time.  We value each other and respect each other.  And the VALUES we have agreed upon speak for themselves. 

Leaders, when you have a team member who is not consistently living out your Team’s values, it is a huge advantage to have looked at those values together before they serve.  That way, your correction (as you speak the truth in love) to them does not need to come from you personally, so much as it is a discussion about the VALUES you share as Teammates.  This has been a monumentally effective tool for me as a leader over the years.

3) Simplicity = Unity.  Simplifying your purpose and values leads to greater clarity, which leads to greater understanding, which leads to greater unity.  Distilling what really matters most down to bite-sized bullet points for your Team CLARIFIES and HIGHLIGHTS the Biblical principles that undergird what you do.  While God says that ALL scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching, it is obviously not possible (or necessary) to remember ALL scripture at ALL times.  Bullet points are memorable.  Bullet points bring focus.  At Living Hope, all of our core values are derived from Scripture, and we have tied one verse to each value.  Our purpose statement is one sentence.  Simple.  Memorable.  Unifying.

I’ve listed three advantages of taking the time to write out and agree upon your Team’s purpose core values, but there are many more.  If you haven’t started the hard work of crafting these together as a Team, I encourage you to start.  It will take time.  Maybe months.  That’s OK – the results are worth it.  So order some pizza and have a good time with it.  Bring your Bibles and your white boards and your yellow legal pads.  YOU will need to work these out for your own team, because your church environment, your goals as a team, and your leadership style are unique to you.  Below you’ll see our purpose and core values, but it is worth it to craft your own.  Do the hard work.


As an example, here are the Living Hope Worship and Arts Ministry purpose and core values:


Ministry Purpose (why we exist) >> To model and facilitate deeply significant worship expressions that result in transformed lives.


Ministry Values (what guides us) >>

1.  We value GOD’S REPUTATION above everything else.

            “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  – I Corinthians 10:31

 2.  We value FREEDOM in expressing our love to God.

            “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  – II Corinthians 3:17

 3.  We value the authority and power of BIBLICAL TRUTH to change lives.

                “…true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth…”  – John 4:23

 4.  We value AUTHENTICITY, HUMILITY, and INTEGRITY as reflections of spiritual maturity.

                “…offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God…”  –  Romans 12:1

 5.  We value honest RELATIONSHIPS within the community, the church, and the Team.

                “…being like minded… one in spirit and purpose.”  –  Philippians 2:2

 6.  We value artistic EXCELLENCE for the glory of God.

          “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart…”  – Colossians 3:23


Does your Worship Ministry Team have a clear purpose and clearly stated values?  Has it made a difference in the way your Team serves the church?


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“worship ministry team values :: we’ve got spirit, yes we do” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


Levi is five.  He and two of his brothers just took part in a music concert at our church.  There were tons of people there.  Mom was prepping him for the big night – trying to prepare the boys for what might happen.  Laughing.  Clapping.  Some cheering.  All possible.  We just want to teach our kids how to handle kindness.  How to respond to others with humility and a grateful spirit.  Look people in the eye.  Smile.  Say “thank you.”

“Now when you’re up there… when you’re done singing, people are going to like it.  They might clap for you and cheer a little bit.  Just look them in the eye and smile big.”

Levi didn’t miss a beat…  “I wish they’d just throw money.”

You just can’t make that stuff up.  Kids have a purity in their communication that can be frustrating at times, embarrassing at times, but refreshing, too.  What they think – they say.  They haven’t learned the appropriate filters of genteel society yet.  So they need some training – some guidance.  And our boys LOVE to talk, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.

Let me fill you in on one of our HIGHEST VALUES when it comes to the character development of our boys… It’s gratefulness.

I’m convinced that being appropriately grateful for EVERY small and large blessing in life is the key to a happy life.  And yes, I’m a Pastor and a lover of Jesus Christ – there is nothing in the world more life changing than a relationship with God through faith in Jesus.  But I’ve met all kinds of grumpy Christians.  Have you?  Don’t answer that…

The point is, with or without Jesus, a HUGE part of living a happy life is cultivating and expressing gratefulness as often as possible.  Being aware of the many, many ways we are blessed by the freedom we enjoy.  The people in our lives.  The food that we eat and the clothes that we wear.  Even our heartbeat.  It’s all a gift.

Believers, let your life RING with thanksgiving!  Let it be a defining characteristic of your nature!  If you spend your days looking for reasons to thank God, you will spend your life WORSHIPPING Him.  THAT is what you were made to do!  You fulfill your purpose, God receives more glory, you are deeply satisfied, and your relationship with Him continues to deepen as you enjoy each other.  “Ever increasing glory… rejoicing in the Lord always… life to the FULL!”

For those of you who aren’t sold on Jesus yet, this principle still applies.  Of course, it is harder to be “thankful” for the creation around us when you don’t know where this all came from or why it’s here.  I understand that.  But there are certainly people in your life you can express gratitude to.  You can look for opportunities to be grateful to others.  It will make your life better.  Gratefulness is the mother of happiness.  More “thank you” = more “I’m blessed” = more “I’m happy.”  Try it.

We’re still working on Levi.  We’re working on all of our great boys.  But we continually INSIST on “thank you’s” at home.  For little things and big things.  Every chance they get, I want them to find reasons to say “thank you” to mom, to their brothers, to me, to everyone.  And to God most of all.

Most of our prayer time together at night before bed is a rambling list of THANK YOU GOD for (fill in the blank…)  I’m so encouraged to hear them praising God for their cozy beds.  For mom.  For the cross.  For our little dog.  For the moon and the stars.  The list never gets old.  If they learn this ONE thing… to live a life of THANK YOU GOD, I will feel like a successful dad.

Not surprisingly, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year.  And I know, if you know me well, you might think that has something to do with my momma’s insane cooking and world’s best pumpkin pie.  You’d be right.

But my love of Thanksgiving runs much deeper.  To the core of my life as a man, a dad, and as a worship leader.  On this one day, EVERYONE in America is encouraged to pause for a day and revel in their Thanksgiving to God.  With or without the cranberry sauce and the roasted pine-nut stuffing, I hope every day of my life is Thanksgiving Day.  And, Lord, help me teach my boys what it means to be truly, deeply, and consistently grateful.

This year, when mom brings out the homemade pumpkin pie with cinnamon whipped cream and roasted pecans, I’ve gotta figure out a way to let her know how much I appreciate her.  Maybe this year, I’ll just throw money…

What are YOU grateful for?


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“throwing money at my mom :: the key to a happy life” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


When I worked as Minister of Celebration (Worship and Arts Ministries) for 10 years at Emmaus Lutheran Church in Bloomington, MN (just up the road from the Mall of America), I had the privilege of serving alongside a genius Children’s Music Director.  Let me repeat… GENIUS.

Vergene Downs and I are great friends, and I have deep respect for her.  She can keep 700 children at a time alert, quiet, and smiling… and then lead them in celebratory music making that can rival a Broadway chorus.  (OK… 700 may be an exaggeration – but even leading 12 kids under age 10 at a time would freak me out, so work with me here.)

I used to love to press her buttons by repeatedly bringing up the age old children’s worship tune… “Father Abraham.”  Ah yes, that paragon of doctrinal wisdom.  Font of inspiration that has led generations of children to adore Jesus with fresh fervor…

It’s basically the “Hokey Pokey” for church kids.

“Father Abraham had seven sons.  And seven sons had Faaa-ther Abraham.  I am one of them.  And so are you.  So let’s just praise the Lord. RIGHT ARM!   Father Abraham…” 

Then you continue to repeat the refrain while waving your right arm like a chicken, continually adding body parts until the children become a giggling, writhing mass of silly.  Good times.  I can just feel their little hearts drawing close to the Lord as they shake their booty.

And here was my other school-aged favorite.  Sing along, you former young Lutherans…

Halla-lala-la-la-la-lale-lu-ya, Halla-lala-la-la-la-lale-lu!   Halla-lala-la-la-la-lale-lu-ya, Halla-lala-la-la-laaaaaa… lay-loo-yaaahhhhh!

Shake another hand, shake a hand next to ya, shake another hand as we sing this song!  Shake another hand, shake a hand next to ya!  Shake another hand as we sing… Sing this song! (Hala-lala-la…)

You were there.  You know what went down.  Bone-crushing grips between students trying to out cool each other – make the other guy give up first.  “Shake another hand” became “crush this poor dude’s bones, crunch a hand next to ya…”

And it only got worse when we got to Junior High.  With Chuck… our laid back college-aged volunteer sadistic Youth Leader from the dark side.  This was Chuck’s favorite song.  When Chuck led us in “worship” with his guitar, I would begin deep breathing exercises… steeling myself for the upcoming onslaught.  It was also important to strategically place yourself between, say, the captain of the 6th Grade chess team, and the 1985 Junior Great Books read-a-thon winner.  Avoid the hockey players.  Do not stand next to the football guys… or the wrestlers.  Bad.

Chuck:  “OK everyone.  Here we go!  Sing with me…  Pat another back, pat a back next to ya…

And it went downhill from there.  “Grab another knee, grab a knee next to ya…”  “Poke somebody’s ribs, poke the ribs next to ya…”  “Stomp another foot, stomp a foot…”

At least we had the “Hala-lala’s” to recuperate between the thirteen verses of full contact bodily damage we were inflicting on each other over the soulful strumming sounds emanating from Chuck’s guitar.  Can you just feel the love of Jesus?  I mean, beyond the dull ache of your crushed pinky toe and the hematoma on your right thigh?  I can feel it.  That was so awesome.

And this is where I would drive my genius friend Vergene crazy.  You see, when I was growing up, I never learned the difference between “Father Abraham” and “Father, I Adore You.”  To us kids, they were all just songs.  “Punch another thigh…” right along side “LEFT LEG! Father Abraham” right along side “I love You, Lord.”  Just songs.  Brainless songs.  They all blended together.

So when I came on staff at Emmaus, I banned “Father Abraham,” and all other songs of such frivolous ilk.  My thought was, “You know what?  These songs actually DAMAGED my spiritual growth.  They taught me nothing of value about my relationship to God, and they numbed my ability to think.”  I sh0uld have been told.  Someone in authority should have taught us that when we sing, “Father I adore You” we are singing to the King of Heaven.  That we should think, and feel, and mean what we say.  Someone should have taught us that we need to take it seriously when we sing “I love You, Lord… and I lift my voice to worship You…”

But nobody did.  I had a lot to UNlearn before I could learn what worship really looked like.  Father Abraham = BAD.  Strike it from the record.  May it never be sung under MY tenure in this hallowed hall of worship.

Enter Vergene.  “You know what Josh, you need to lighten up.”  She said this with such conviction that it caught me off guard.  “It’s OK for kids to have FUN.  They NEED that once in awhile.  Kids aren’t ready to be serious all the time.  You need to lighten up.”

So I gave her the benefit of the doubt.  And then I watched her.  Over the years we worked together, countless kids… having FUN.  In church.  And at the same time, knowing the ONE KING they were singing to in their times of worship.  Children’s choirs singing what their hearts believed.  And then taking an occasional break for some full contact play time set to music.  And it was all good.

The genius difference between Vergene and the children’s ministry leaders of my youth was that she simply paid attention to the PURPOSE and the AUDIENCE of the music she led, and she taught our kids to do the same.  “Father Abraham” is not a worship song.  Period.  Doesn’t make it bad.  It just makes it… not a worship song.

“…out of the overflow of the heart the lips speak…”  (Luke 7:45)

Pastors and Worship Directors and Children’s Music Directors and PARENTS:  teach your kids that God made everything, that He loves them like crazy, and that everything good in their life comes from Him.  Help fill their hearts to the brim with gratefulness to our Creator.  Then teach them to sing “Father I adore You” with reverence, and watch the power of an overflowing heart.

And if they need to burn off some energy, break out the dance remix of “Father Abraham” once in awhile.   It’s OK.  That’s what I learned from my genius friend Vergene. 


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“teaching kids to worship :: full contact without pads” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

The Levites_effects

It’s a mystery.  How do I get to do this?

I don’t deserve to love my work this deeply.  It’s a God-gift that keeps rewrapping itself.  I love leading Living Hope Church’s staff and arts teams.  I love designing the “look and feel” of a local church.  I eat up music-making, arranging, drumming, rehearsals…  But what I am most grateful for beyond my redemption in Jesus is my brothers.

My team of Levites.  Called to handle the Holy things, and assist the church family in coming before the throne room of the King.  Musicians, yes.  But mostly facilitators – in deep relationship with God and with each other.

Worship Leaders, Pastors, Executive Pastors hear this:  It takes TIME and ENERGY to build your teams DEEP (not just wide), but the payoff for your Team and for your Church is incalculable.

Last night’s rehearsal was electric.  Leading a rehearsal is always work, but often I leave them energized rather than drained.  Last night left me buzzing.  Jeremy’s Keyboard licks (and that TASTY organ patch for the intro on our opener) kept popping into the mix – making me smile big.  Jordan? The Edge.  Edge?  Jordan.  Zen picks up and owns bass licks like… as fast as I can THINK them, let alone sing them.  Andy somehow channels every mood shift, every chord change, every touch.  Just give him the key and he seems to intuitively know the music.  Nate and Lucus chatter patiently while the band works out the details, and then they soar when we run the music.

So – musically fulfilling.  Check.

What makes all the difference in the depth of the experience is our back story.  The relational bonds.

I’ve wept with Jeremy through his cancer diagnosis and treatment.  He knows he can call me @ 3AM asking for prayer (actually, that has happened…), and I can call him.  And we’ve been on mountaintops together.  Figuratively and literally.  A true brother, fellow thinker, artist, heart.

Jason (@churchrd) started playing bass with me early in my first church music job.  The drummer-bass brotherhood is no small thing.  He used to record every rehearsal on a cassette tape player, and go through his music with a pencil to write in the note names.  Committment and discipline leads to skill that leads to art.  And he’s gone through viral cardiomyopathy that severely weakened his heart.  So have I.  Miraculously, God healed him.  Miraculously, me too.

Jordan (@jordan_cd) has that rare mix of outstanding technical skill -and- the humble confidence that marks a mature Christ follower.  He and Andy working together are magic.  Humble, dependable, exceptional.  It’s a joy to play and lead with him every time.

Nate (@n8anderson) and Lucus (@luanders) both have been prayer partners, consistent encouragers, my sounding boards when I have had doubts and worries.  On multiple occasions, these two guys have been my “let’s have lunch and talk about it” friends when I needed my church to be my church.  They know stuff about me that no one else does.  I would take a bullet for these guys.

Andy (@andy_guitar_guy) thinks with my mind.  I have never met anyone with as parallel a ministry philosophy as Andy shares with me.  His heroes are my heroes.  The art that moves him moves me.  He is musical, visual, sensitive to moments and repelled (as I am) by pretense and the sacharine, mind-numbing “Christian art” that represents our faith poorly.  We have the same heart.

I have similar stories and bonds with several others who weren’t scheduled for this week – weren’t at last night’s epic rehearsal.  My team of Levites.  It takes TIME.  It takes contact beyond rehearsal.  It takes investment of energy, resources, intentionality.  But the effort leads to deeper relationships.  Deeper relationships lead to deeper shared experience.  And when we go before the throne of Heaven and invite our church family to come with us, we truly go TOGETHER.  Deeply together.  One heart and one mind, with one shared purpose. (ala Philippians 2:2)

Worship Leaders, Team builders… make the effort.  Invest the time.  View team building as a “long-haul” process.  Deep and wide.  With an emphasis on DEEP.  As Nancy Beach wrote in “An Hour on Sunday…”

“When it’s all said and done, I want to cross the finish line knowing that I was a part of a Team who loved one another outrageously and did ministry side by side until the end.”

Amen and amen.  Have YOU experienced “TEAM” ministry like this?

Band of Levites from Joshua Skogerboe on Vimeo.


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“band of brothers :: my team of levites” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.