Song Story: Love to Tell

Hey you guys! It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here! I’ve been taking some classes and also working on songwriting!! Which I am suuper excited about! I’ve added a Music page to the main menu, which I will use to gradually post videos of my original songs, but may also add some here individually along with the story behind the song.  As a worship leader, these will most likely be songs of praise and worship for the church to sing! I hope you enjoy them! And if you’re a worship leader and ever feel like one of these will work well with your congregation or Bible study group and/or etc., then please message me via my Contact page and I’m happy to send you the chord chart!

Acts 3:6-10-“But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.”

A month or so ago at my church, we were finishing up the book of Acts and our lead pastor was talking about how we, as believers, all have stories of encounters with Jesus. Not just the recounting of how we came to a saving faith in Christ, but also all of the times the Lord has been and continues working and moving in our lives and on our behalf. juri-gianfrancesco-655957-unsplashThe tendency can be to think that only those people with really radical testimonies have anything worth sharing, but that just isn’t true! All of us who know Jesus have stories of His faithfulness. Of His patience and compassion. The way He comforts and pursues us. Of how He works in even the smallest of details. Of how He gets our attention or how He sometimes redirects our course. The stories are as endless and varied as his people!

I love the above account from the book of Acts. First, the disciples are willing to share Jesus…it starts there right?  This man is aware of his own need and is willing to hear and receive what they say, and he believes and is healed. Then his immediate response is to get up and boldly go about showing and telling others of his encounter with Jesus as he leaps and praises His name. Followed by the people who saw and knew him being filled with wonder and amazement! Maybe we haven’t received a dramatic physical healing like this man, but we are no less broken apart from Jesus and our stories are no less remarkable! And you never know who might need to hear yours! May we be filled with renewed excitement over the Lord’s work in our lives and be bold about sharing our Jesus stories! And may we be quick to offer up praise to the One whose love for us is relentless.

 

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet & songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

 

 

Cafe image by Juri Gianfrancesco, on Unsplash
Featured Image by ItsPortAdelaide, on Unsplash 

Gear Talk: What’s In The Bag

Hey worship leaders! Ok so let’s talk gear. I like to be prepared. Nope. I like to be over-prepared! Haha! Just ask my tribe. They’ll confirm this. Honestly though part of good leadership is planning and preparation. In an effort to serve the people on my team and the ones in front of me I like to be in the habit of anticipating every detail as best I can. It’s important to have the musical tools that you’ll need on-hand. Eventually you’re going to show up at church and you’ll realize you have a dead battery, or you bust a string, etc. Or maybe you’ve arrived at a new place for an event or retreat or you’re leading as a guest somewhere and their setup isn’t quite what you have at home. So to avoid potential issues I’ve learned to bring a lot of my own stuff with me. Obviously, this list will vary depending on what instrument you play, and on whether or not you have other elements planned like tracks or pads. And over the years this list has gotten bigger as I’ve added new equipment or figured out the hard way that there was something I missed.

I lead on an acoustic guitar and generally run pads too, so with that in mind, this is my current list.

  • Um.. my guitar. Obviously. haha! But actually if I’m going to be the only acoustic player then I’ll also tend to bring along a spare guitar. This is especially true if I’m going to be out-of-town.
  • Guitar Stand… nearly everywhere I go they have guitar stands. That said, I’ve been places where there weren’t enough of them for the entire team. But even if there are, I bring my own anyway because, well, I really like my guitar stand. I even take it to church with me every weekend just because I like it so much better than the standard ones we have on hand. Mine is this auto-grip stand from Hercules. The guitar hangs on it from the headstock. Which actually, over time, is better on the instrument. Plus the U-shaped base on the standard ones always seems to get tangled up with my cable and/or strap. User error on my part?  Ha! Maybe. But this one is heavy-duty and suuuper stable,  and for me was well worth the money.
  • A pedal tuner. Mine is the Boss TU-2. Plus an iSpot power cord. It can run off battery power too but I prefer to plug it in.
  • A wind-screen for my vocal mic. This is just one of those black foam ball sleeve thingys that slides right over most standard handheld vocal mics. They’re inexpensive and washable. I like them for a variety of reasons. They make using shared microphones more sanitary. So there’s that. But mainly I like them because they soften the ‘p’ and ‘s’ sounds, inhibit wind noise if you’re outdoors, and they allow me to sing right up against the mic without having to worry about bumping into the metal cover of the mic itself. Every time I work with a new sound engineer I always let them know that I’d like to use it and get their opinion on it. I’ve never had one ask me not to. Actually they all seem to prefer it.
  • Extra guitar strings. as alluded to earlier. Also a peg winder and needle-nose pliers/wire cutters.
  • Extra 9-volt batteries. And a battery tester. I’m in the habit of checking my guitar battery every time I’m leading. We have four services at our main campus (one on Saturday evening and three on Sunday morning)..and a dead battery in the middle of a service would be a major bummer. I unplug the instrument cable from my guitar following the Saturday evening service so I don’t drain the battery overnight. But if I forget… then I have fresh batteries on hand. The tuner pedal mentioned above can run off a 9-volt too. So if I end up in a situation where I don’t have access to plug it in, then I can always throw a new battery in it instead.
  • Speaking of instrument cables, I always bring at least a couple of my own, plus a patch cable for the tuner.  Any cable can eventually go bad, but at least I know my cables are in like-new condition, and are properly re-coiled after each use. On occasions when I’m bringing my piano along…then I throw in a few more. If I’m going some place new and unsure of the set-up, then I’ll tend to make sure I bring along some longer ones too, just in case.
  • My iPad.  Because whether I’m working with charts or just a set list, I use my iPad instead of paper. That said, I also bring along extra paper copies for myself.
  • I run my iPad hands-free so I also bring along my Bluetooth controller pedal. And the micro usb cable I use to keep it plugged in. It contains a rechargeable battery but I prefer not to depend on that, especially through a rehearsal and multiple services.
  • A mic stand holder for my iPhone.  As mentioned above I tend to run pads, which I am currently doing from my phone..(you can refer to my previous post on the subject for more details on that..), so I purchased this mount so my phone is at my fingertips.
  • A male to male, 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch connector cable to connect my phone to the system via a direct box.
  • Lightning cables and a dual wall adapter so I can keep my iPad and iPhone plugged in.
  • Extension cords.. in two different lengths. (Mine have three outlets each.) I never want to assume that any place I visit will have an extra one.  And you never know how far away the outlet is going to be…hence the two sizes to choose from. Also when I’m traveling I will tend to pack a power strip. All of these are black, btw. So they’re not overly noticeable or unsightly on stage..
  • My IEM’s (in-ear monitors). Extra tips, And a headphone extension cable.
  • A couple of capos. (in case one breaks…).  Pro hack: in a pinch you can use a pencil and a rubber band and make your own capo. Haha! I’m serious! Personally though I’d rather have a spare.
  • I make sure I’ve packed my guitar strap. And bring along extra guitar picks! Somehow they always ending lying around the house in the strangest places, or still in the pockets of all your skinny jeans, except for the ones you’re currently wearing of course.
  • Don’t forget the chord charts for your team! At least in my case I’m the only one who’s paperless. So I print copies of the charts out for everybody else. Including for the sound engineer and whoever is running the lyrics. And one last tip: if your service is outdoors then place the band’s charts in thin 3-ring binders. Your team will appreciate it. And so will you when no one’s music is blowing across the lawn in the middle of the service. 🙂

I think that’s it! At least for now. Like I said before my list keeps growing and changing as I add new elements or discover new ways that I can be better prepared and/or better serve my team. I’d love to know what some of you have in your gear bags!

Blessings on you as you continue to serve our Lord Jesus by leading His people with excellence! ~ Michelle

 

 

Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet and songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

 

Cover photo by Haley Powers from Unsplash.

So You Want To Be A Worship Leader?

“This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.'”  

So you want to be a worship leader. It may not be what you imagine.

Being a worship leader can be pretty awesome. Those of us who have this responsibility recognize how blessed we are that the Lord would allow us to serve Him and His people in this way. That we get to serve Him doing something we enjoy so much is truly remarkable.

Being a worship leader can also be really hard. Preparation is time-consuming. We miss out on time with family. The tools of the trade can be expensive. It’s impossible to please everyone, even though we wish we could. As worship leaders we’re on the spiritual battle front-lines and Satan doesn’t want us to succeed. There is so much more to the job, as critical as it is, than the 30 or so minutes spent on that platform each week. So. Much. More.

Being a worship leader is a calling. It may or may not be your occupation too. If it is that’s great. But the source of your paycheck is irrelevant and has no bearing on whether or not you are called and gifted by the Lord to pastor His people as a worship leader.  Yes, the worship leader role is a pastoral one! And according to the verse noted above from 1 Timothy, desiring to serve and lead His church is a good thing! Not every Christian musician or vocalist is necessarily called to lead worship though. There are a variety of worthwhile ways that a person can use their musical and creative gifts to serve the Lord and other people that don’t involve leading in an organized church setting. And I’m so grateful for that! What a bummer it would be if we didn’t have Christian creatives using their gifts to glorify and honor the Lord across the spectrum of artistic fields!

Music is one of my very favorite aspects to God’s creation! It’s amazing! We see throughout Scripture God’s people utilizing music in praise and worship. But worship isn’t about music. Instead it’s a tool that we use. It is important that we play and sing with skill (Psalm 33:3), but it isn’t for the sake of impressing other people. It’s about honoring the Lord with our best. Because He is worthy of nothing less. Most people don’t realize that for the average congregational worship service, numerous hours are spent in preparation each week. And that’s how it should be! We want to lead well!  And that takes time, skill, practice, commitment, planning and constantly seeking the Lord in prayer.

Everything worship leaders do behind the scenes impacts the congregational gatherings of corporate worship, which is a vital element of church body life. Let’s unpack that a bit.

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We’ve touched on a few of these already.  Effective worship leaders will be mature believers and will possess skills in… pastoring, creativity, vocals and/or playing an instrument, music theory, music technology, theology, teaching, communication, administration, organization, stewardship and mentoring. A good worship leader will be willing and able to train and equip others to lead too. They are detail oriented, frequently called upon to troubleshoot a myriad of issues, and ideally will have at least a basic understanding of music production and live sound engineering. They must be adept at planning and preparation, and just as adept and flexible in responding to those last-minute, unforeseen issues or changes that always seem to come up. They should approach everything they do with humility and a shepherd’s heart, and with the understanding that no matter how much they know, there is always room for continued learning and growth.

So. You want to be a worship leader? Pray about it! Spend time in the Word and in private worship of the Lord. And then pray some more! Find an experienced worship pastor and talk to her or him about it! Ask the Lord to confirm that it’s what He’s calling you to do. And ask Him to place you where He wants! Scripture tells us that His plans for us are far more than we can imagine! So even if leading worship isn’t His plan for you, then whatever else He does have for you will be amazing! Evaluate your heart and motives! Also, take an honest assessment of your skill set then prioritize and make a plan for improvement. Consider the possibility of going to school or seminary to study and equip yourself. If you’re already a worship leader then the same thing applies! Prayer, Bible study, heart-checks, skill evaluation and training should be on-going in the life of the worship leader. You have a unique purpose in His kingdom! Pursue Him and be in the habit of cultivating the gifts and skills He’s given you for the benefit of His church and for His glory.

Ultimately none of us are worthy to serve the Lord. But by His design, grace and relentless love for us, it’s what we get to do.

Let’s do it well.

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Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet and songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

Tech Talk : How To Run Pads

Hey guys! A few times lately I’ve had other local worship leaders asking me about pads and how to run them! So I thought I’d give an overview on how I do it. It’s easy! And adds so much to your live sound. There are multiple ways it can be done but I’m going to touch on the method I use and am familiar with.

So lets start out with a quick definition.  Pads are a musical element you add to your sound that fills out the empty spaces and contributes a bit of texture and an ambient, spacious feel that undergirds the live instruments. Pads are great as a bridge between songs, and can even stand alone for part of a song. Listen to the opening passage of Hillsong’s live version of What A Beautiful Name.  The only thing you’re hearing there in accompaniment to Brooke’s lovely voice is pad. For each song in your set you pick the sound you want, – some are warm and mellow, others more bright and sparkly, etc – and the key you’ll be in and you’re good to go!

Ok so how to do it? Like I said bIMG_4081efore there are different ways it can be done and different sources for the pad sounds. I’ve got friends who use their laptop and run pads through a program like Ableton or even iTunes. One of my friends has the skills and the tools to create his own. Whatever. haha!  I use Coresound and run the pads on my iPhone or iPad using their app: Pads Live. The app is free but you purchase the pads. You don’t have to use the app. Their pad loops can be run using a variety of programs and devices if you prefer. Here’s a link to their website for all of the deets.

Now let’s look at the tools and how I set up on stage. It’s pretty simple. In addition to my iPhone I also have: IMG_3899

  • a mic stand mount for my phone. Not necessary but preferable for me. I bought one  on Amazon for like $15.  Literally puts my phone at my fingertips.
  • a direct box to plug into.  In my case I use two direct boxes, one for my acoustic guitar and the other for my phone for running pads.
  • a male-to-male cable with a 1/4in on one end for the direct box and an 1/8in on the other to plug into the headphone jack on your phone.
  • I also generally like to plug my phone in to power, so always keep on hand a lightning cable, adapter and extension cord.

And that’s it! The pad should be mixed in the House in such a way that it accompanies and complements. You don’t want it so loud that it overpowers. As far as setting up and using the app, I found it to be pretty intuitive. You add songs, selecting the pad sound and the key you want for each, then create a playlist (setlist) and add your songs! Then from within the set you press play to start the first song. When you’re ready for the next song all it takes is a single touch.  In settings you can turn on the crossfade feature if you want, so you don’t get dead space between songs.  The Coresound website has FAQ’s and tutorials available if you want to check it out.

I hope that’s helpful! We use pads with full band and I’ve also used them on my own with my guitar, and everything in between. They really are a great tool and easy to incorporate into your sets, and add quite a bit of depth and polish to your overall sound.

~ Lord bless you as you seek to serve Him and His people with excellence! Michelle

Set Prep : The Lyrics

Hi you guys! I’m suuuper stoked this week as we complete final preparations to lead worship at a women’s conference where I was invited to join my worship pastor and some friends of ours in leading worship for some precious sweet sisters. These godly guys are super talented and I’m so excited to be joining them!

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

If you’re a worship leader then you know there is a ton of work that goes into preparing to lead. I’m not talking about all of the considerations that go into song selection. That’s critical and there’s lots to unpack there so I’ll leave it for another conversation. But after the songs are chosen there’s a lot of prep and planning that should take place so that, when the time comes, we can lead effectively and with excellence. For this weekend, as I won’t be on my guitar for this one, I’ve had more time than normal to really focus on the lyrics and vocals, and am reminded once again how important that part of the process is to effective leadership. I also know that it can tend take a back seat to other pieces of the process!  At least I can be guilty of that.  There can be so much to do in regards to: logistics, communicating with and preparing resources for the band and tech teams, rehearsing/learning melody lines, determining tempos and working with the click, deciding on arrangements, then practicing all of that on an instrument, exploring and planning the transitions between songs, rehearsing with the team…..and etc, etc, etc….  All of these things are so important! But what I find is that I can sometimes fail to stop each week and take a fresh look at the lyrics we’ll be singing and leading.  Which is such a bummer! Not to mention a lost opportunity.  Because let’s face it…as amazing and emotive and dynamic as it can be…the music is ultimately the vehicle. It’s the lyrics and the vocals that really communicate the heart of what’s being said.

We can sing the lyrics accurately and nail the melody lines, but if we’re disconnected from the content and heart of what the song is communicating that will generally come across and can diminish our ability to lead well. Here are a few of my thoughts on ways we can approach the lyrics each time as we prepare to lead God’s people in corporate worship.

  1. Consider this a devotional time and invite the Lord to give you a renewed perspective and clarity on each song’s message.
  2. Print out the lyrics, in particular for the songs where you will be the lead voice (or better yet typing or writing them out.. if you have the additional time).  And exclude the chords and other musical notations. We just want the lyrics.
  3. Now read the lyrics. Don’t sing them. Just read them. Out loud even if you’re able. I know this sounds elementary but what can happen with songs we know very well is that over time we become desensitized to their meaning.  So read through them slowly and intentionally, not by rote. This is partly why removing the melody is important. That will force us to view the lyrics entirely on their own, outside of the musical context. Take your time and ponder the words and truths being expressed! And thank the Lord while you’re doing it!
  4. Re-read the lyrics with your Bible handy. For each phrase or section, pause and look for corresponding passages in Scripture, and jot them down next to the lyric lines.  This is admittedly time-consuming, at least initially, but sooo worth it.  This process has left me in tears on more than one occasion as I’ve sat and been ministered to by the Lord as He has reminded me of the truths in a particular song that I’m preparing to lead. And I’m convinced that this impacts our effectiveness. When we have a fresh understanding of what we’re singing and when we engage with the Lord in that moment in genuine worship, those we are leading can sense that and the Lord uses that to draw them into worship as well.  If you do this step regularly, you can keep your notes and refer back to them the next time you lead the same song. (A little side note: There was one time where I knew the lyrics were going to be printed, not projected on a screen, and we included the Scripture references for each song on the printed lyric handouts. I explained this at the start of the service.. and got a lot of great feedback afterward. People appreciated being able to take the lyrics and corresponding Scriptures home with them for their own personal devo time.)
  5.  Prayerfully consider ways you might reinforce the truths you’re singing during the service. This might be by adding a related Scripture reading somewhere in the set, or referencing key lyrics as a way of praying or transitioning between two songs or during the interlude of a song. You might also consider a very brief personal story that relates to the lyrical truths in some way that you could use as you intro the service or a particular song.  Thinking this through ahead of time is especially helpful if you find speaking in front of people more difficult than singing in front of them. You can plan in advance how you might use or reference the lyrics during those brief moments when you’ll be speaking, so that your words contribute to the worship, rather than detract from it.

I hope these thoughts are helpful! In addition to these planning-phase steps, there are also some things that as vocalists we can do (or avoid doing) during the service itself that impact the effectiveness of our ability to communicate, interact with and lead the congregation. But I’ll save that for another post!

Blessings on you all as you plan and prepare to lovingly lead the people God has placed in front of you!

~ Michelle

 

Crafting Your Team’s Vision

So what makes a team great? Why do some teams function smoothly and some…well.. not so much?  Truth be told there are a LOT of factors that go into the success or failure of a team, and most of those (possibly all of them?) start at the leadership level. But one in particular stands out that strikes me as essential, and yet so often is missing from ministries, and that is the ability on the part of leadership to both craft and communicate a team vision. I understand as Christians that if we’re to be truly successful at ministry then it has to be something the Holy Spirit is involved in, but all too often I’ve seen that used as an excuse to avoid any kind of planning, preparation or training.  A verse that comes to mind is Psalm 127:1a,  “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;…..”.  We see both aspects at play here..  our desperate need for the Lord, and also the need for us to plan and work. Anyone who has ever built anything knows it can’t be done well without careful planning and preparation. All throughout Scripture we see examples of the people of God functioning within a framework of the two…prayer and the moving of the Holy Spirit in combination with vision, planning and hard work. Check out the Old Testament book of Nehemiah to see these and many other leadership principles in action!

Ok. So how do we, as creative ministry leaders, go about crafting a vision for our ministries and teams? What does that mean practically?  pexels-photo-296878.jpegHere are three basic elements to consider as you (and possibly a few key leaders from your team) work to create a set of unified goals.

  1. What’s our purpose? Or, why do we do what we do? This needs to be specific and goes way beyond simply stating that we lead people in worship. Actually that’s a very brief observation about what we do, or should be doing, but our teams need to understand the why and what it is we’re truly trying to accomplish.  You should prayerfully work this out for your team specifically, but here’s what I came up with by way of example: To magnify and delight the LORD; to serve the LORD and His church with creative excellence; to effectively lead in praise & worship through music and the other creative arts, so that everyone in our congregation who wants to join us can do so; to proclaim the truths of Scripture, and to evangelize the lost. 
  2. What will ‘success’ look like? This paints out some details on what kinds of results we expect to see if we’re accomplishing our stated purpose. So maybe something like this: As a church family we will grow in our understanding of what it means to live a life of worship, and to worship the LORD in spirit and truth; there will be an increase in the freedom of expression as we corporately engage with the LORD through prayer, scripture and song. As a creative ministry team we will create art of our own that ministers to and expresses the heart of our congregation, and will be continually improving in all aspects of our skills. We will see non-believers come to saving faith in Jesus Christ as we sing and speak the Truth, engage with the community and live out the Gospel in every facet of our lives. 
  3. How do we get there? How must we act and what should our priorities be to facilitate success? Defining this is important because it provides a framework for us and for our teams to operate and make decisions from, thereby maintaining progress toward collective goals. For example you might include things like: Everything we say and do, whether from stage or behind the scenes, must line up with the truth of scripture, therefore, frequent and regular times of prayer and Bible study will be a priority for the team as a whole and for each member individually. The congregation’s needs come before our own needs and desires; we will always work to lead in such a way that they are able to follow, and will teach and encourage them to do so. We must be well-prepared and well-practiced, yet able to serve on short notice, therefore we will be committed to putting in the necessary time for practice at home and rehearsal with the band, as well as in general striving toward improvement and the learning of new skills. We will pursue creative endeavors and will encourage one another and cheer one another on wholeheartedly.  We will always leave room to welcome new team members as the Lord sees fit to add to our number. We will work alongside, and as needed, defer to requests and priorities from those in authority over us. 

pexels-photo-296881.jpegOnce your team’s vision has been crafted, the next step is to communicate it to them! Teams that have a shared vision that everyone understands and can get on board with are far more likely to be productive and ‘successful’ than teams that are trying to function without any order or understanding of where it is they’re all trying to go.  The best way is in person, at a team meeting where everyone is in attendance. I would suggest that you print out copies of your vision in order to facilitate the discussion and also so they can take it home with them.  Use inclusive language as you explain it to make it about the team, not about yourself. Each member needs to take ownership of the vision so that it becomes everyone’s goal and purpose, not just yours. Be ready to dialogue and answer any questions they might have…  Have fun with it and try to create some energy and excitement surrounding it! Finally, be prepared to continue to prayerfully encourage and coach your team! Maybe even coming up with creative ways to remind each other of the vision and holding one another accountable to it as you serve alongside one another in pursuit of excellence!

Whether you’ve recently taken on the responsibility of leading a ministry, or you’ve been in leadership for awhile and are ready to take your crew to the next level, I hope this encourages you and sparks some great conversations for you and your team!  No matter how well our teams are currently functioning, there’s always room for improvement ~ Michelle