Worship Foundations

Worship Foundations for Advent, Part 3: Christmas Future- Look Ahead!

“What? You’ve never seen A Christmas Carol?” I’m stunned.

“No! Isn’t it a scary movie?”

My youngest daughter is seventeen now, and she’s not into scary movies. When Ebenezer Scrooge is essentially kidnapped by the black-shrouded ghost of Christmas Future, it is definitely an ominous, terrifying experience! The “angel of death” figure is definitely not what we wanted our young children lying in bed dreaming about on Christmas Eve. Sugar plums would be much nicer. I just didn’t realize that future Michaela was never informed that the Charles Dickens classic is totally not a horror movie! A long-overdue family viewing is in her future!

Spoiler alert: When Ebenezer Scrooge looked into his future, it changed his life. What if we could look ahead into ours? I don’t mean figuring out who will win the World Cup or the Kentucky Derby, who you will marry, or how long you will live. Let’s look farther than that. When all the Christmases have come and gone for you and me, then what?

Check out these future-promises from the original Christmas story:

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

And you, O Bethlehem… from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” (Matthew 1:6)

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32,33).

Jesus will save God’s people.

He will rule and shepherd God’s people.

He will reign forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom!

All of these promises, declared before his birth, are still true today. We live in an in-between time of both ‘promise fulfilled’ and ‘promise yet-to-be-fulfilled. These words from the Apostle Paul make the point:

In him [Jesus] you also … were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (Ephesians 1:13,14). He goes on to say, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7).

Guarantee… inheritance… in the coming ages… immeasurable riches of grace… These things are promised while even now those whose faith is in Jesus are already sealed with God’s Promise, loved with the Father’s great love, made alive together with Christ, and saved by God’s grace. The “now” is pretty good, right? And the even better “not yet” is coming! A glorious future of eternal life with Christ in His eternal kingdom awaits us!

If these promises (and oh, so many more!) are true, then our worship now can be unapologetically and unabashedly filled with thankful praise. We have an incomparable hope that goes beyond any present circumstance and any fear of lack or loss in this lifetime. It goes beyond budgets and bills, presents and pandemics. Our hope goes beyond even the grave itself! Those who reflect on these truths, feed our souls with them, and dare to fill our mouths with them will discover our hearts being warmed by them too. Let’s talk about this secure hope that is ours in Christ. Let’s sing about it!

Remember Ebenezer’s giddy, half-crazy Christmas morning joy? He was radically transformed by visiting and discovering the realities of his past, present, and future. This Christmas, I pray your heart is strengthened through celebrating what God has done, what He is doing right now, and all he has promised to do eternally.

The final words from Handel’s Messiah are perfectly appropriate here: “And he shall reign forever and ever…Hallelujah!

Worship Foundations

Worship Foundations for Advent, Part 2: Christmas Present!

When I remember the Christmases of my childhood, they often have an airbrushed, wrinkle-free quality in my mind, fuzzy-warm memories a la Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Snow forts with bridges and tunnels; wearing my construction paper reindeer antlers (with accompanying red paper circle taped to my nose, of course!); the fresh pine aroma in our little white church from the newly-cut branches decorating every window; I could go on and on. I love and value those memories, but do you know what? I don’t live there anymore, and I can’t live there again.

It’s important that our past, whether good or bad, doesn’t overly dominate our head space. Remembering is excellent, and we talked about looking back to Christmas Past in Part 1 of this series, but where I live and where you live is here, not there. Christmas Present. Christmas Now. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus’ incarnation – his first coming to mankind, taking on flesh and becoming one of us – is the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14)

And what does Matthew say Immanuel means? God with us (Matthew 1:23). There is a present-tense beauty to worshiping a God who is not only God of our past and God of our distant future, but also God of our present, God with us now. We have the wonderful opportunity to present him with the gift of our worship in the here and now, just as Mary does during her pregnant (literally!) anticipation of the birth of her son, Jesus. What does she say?

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46,47).

This is present tense worship, present tense rejoicing! She understands that God has spoken in past generations and that generations to come will call her blessed. This perspective finds important expression in her life right now. She is enjoying God in the moment, praising in the present.

If we’re honest, we can probably all identify something about our current Christmas circumstances that is – how should we say it? –  less than wonderful. For example, when I eat all the sugary wonderfulness that is December, it actually does something “less than wonderful” around my middle! And the bathroom scale tells me non-airbrushed lies. Okay, not lies. Ouch. And that’s nothing compared to the relational hardship, health challenges, long-distance separation, and fractured reality that many face during the holidays. The hardness of that reality can seem to create obstacles that fight and resist genuine worship from our hearts. But something else Mary says really strikes me in a transformative way:

And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50).

His mercy is for you. Right now. Do you hold him in awe and wonder and respect? Then this promise is not just for a more holy generation that lived a long time ago. It’s not just for a far-off future somewhere. God’s mercy is for you right now. Today. His kindness, his good will, and his blessing are directed at you! Focus in on God’s mercy toward you. Magnify it before your eyes. Pause and reflect. Then respond from your heart accordingly.

What if we dare to praise God in this present world in which we find ourselves? What if we look up from our memories, from our celebrations, and from our worries into the face of God? What if we look up to Jesus, our Immanuel, God With Us Now, and God for us now? We might be surprised at the goodness we discover He is working in the world around us!

Imagine the effect we can have if each of us shares the goodness of Christmas Present with even just one person in that world we see today! I’d invite you, after you first look up and encourage your own soul with the kindness of God toward you, to take up the challenge to share that kindness this week.

Worship Foundations

Worship Foundations for Advent, part 1: Look Back!

If you’ve lived a few years, you’ve got some Christmas Past in you! So, before you read any farther, take note of your immediate thoughts when you hear someone sing, “Christmas Music!”

I admit that after more than 40 years of Christmas programs, recitals, and worship gatherings my mind runs simultaneously in multiple directions: Rudolph leads the way today, followed closely by Grandma, who gets run over tragically by reindeer! Santa is on the roof, down the chimney, and kissing Mommy, while we are all rockin’ around the Christmas tree and singing the Hallelujah Chorus, followed by Silent Night. (Apparently, God knew we needed to settle down and catch our breath before receiving the news about Grandma.) From Burl Ives and Bing Crosby to Mariah Carey and Matt Redman, the music that plays nostalgically in my mind travels all over the place!

When it comes to worshiping through this Advent season, there is thankfully more than just nostalgia at work in my heart and mind (although that was fun, right?). Nostalgia alone could ring hollow in a year with so much forced change and hardship for so many. But there is a deep conviction, joy, and hope that is rooted even more deeply into the pages of Scripture, words inspired by God Himself and penned about Jesus by prophetic men such as Isaiah and Matthew:

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

​‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

​and they shall call his name Immanuel’

(which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:21-23, ESV

Advent literally speaks of a beginning, the arrival of something or someone. In this case, that’s a Someone with a capital S, Someone before whom even Santa would bow the knee. (And the historic Saint Nicholas did exactly that, which was instrumental in him becoming the stuff of legend.) The coming of Jesus, the arrival of the promised and long-awaited Messiah, changed the world not only for his mother and step-father, but for all of us, shaping all of history.

Dare to Look Deeper

This Christmas season, dare to look back farther than your favorite holiday pop songs, carols, or even your favorite childhood memories. I invite you to look back with me into the “deep magic,” as Aslan would say, where healing is discovered, and where the Light of the World pours into hearts that have felt real trauma, real loss, and real grief.

Look to the heart of the original Christmas Past, many centuries before Charles Dickens would even think to lead Ebenezer Scrooge into his.

Look to the promises from Scripture: God foretold that a virgin would conceive and bear a son. Then it happened.

Isaiah prophesied that he would be called Immanuel, “God With Us.” And He is. The angel Gabriel delivered the promise that Jesus would save his people from their sin. And He has.

Let your mind and heart feast richly on these truths! The promise of salvation and access to God through Jesus is not just some antiquated religious idea, but a key foundation to appreciating and entering into the fullness of God’s will and blessing for us. This is true during Advent, and all year long. Jesus’ own words remind us of the unimaginably wonderful love of God toward us, loving the world so much that “he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

So, this Christmas, wherever you find yourself, look back into the promise of God’s love toward you, fulfilled in Christ. Gaze into this Constant in a time of change. May your playlist be flavored with “God and sinners reconciled,” and may your worship be rooted into the historic truth,

Light of the World, You stepped out into darkness

Opened my eyes, let me see…​

Humbly You came to the earth You created

All for love’s sake became poor

(Here I Am To Worship (c) 2001 Thankyou Music)


People Matter: 3 Simple Steps to Building Relational Equity

I completely blew off a drum lesson yesterday. It wasn’t like I meant to! It’s Thanksgiving week, so I had checked with every music student and family that I teach, confirming who was available versus who was traveling or just wanting to take the week off. I marked each appointment in my calendar for the week as either “YES” or “CANCELLED.” Yet somehow, even though this student’s lesson was meant to be a “YES” I wrote it down as … you guessed it … “CANCELLED.” It’s a mystery. I have the texts confirming the lesson and everything. I think I accidentally wrote it because the lesson right before was actually cancelled; but the world may never know for sure!

Fifteen minutes into what was supposed to be this fantastic young drummer’s lesson, I got a text message from his mom wondering what was up. I quickly fired a text back saying I had us down as cancelled, and that followed with apologies and me calling – not just texting! –  to try to set up a make-up lesson for later that day (which didn’t work out).

If you know me, you know I work hard to stay on top of my schedule. I recognize that I have a lot of plates spinning: even though I’ve cut back my studio, I still have just over 30 private music students  who are studying various instruments; I am also the lead pastor of our small church, preaching most Sundays and engaging with the great relationships and necessary studying during the week; I serve and try to stay in contact with other pastors and leaders in our broader family of churches; oh, yeah, and I’m a husband and father. To be sure I’m in the right place at the right time and can follow through on promises, I depend heavily on my calendar and on my to-do list. If I make even a small commitment to someone I seriously have to write it down and put it on my list to be sure I don’t leave them hanging.  My motto is often, “It isn’t real until I write it down!”

Sometimes, however, in spite of my best intentions, I mess up like I did with this drum lesson. And I hate it, because I know that there’s a real person on the other end of my mistake. There’s someone else who set aside their valuable time for that appointment.  (Right about now you may be thinking, “Fantastic. Thanks, Jon, now I feel bad about myself, for all the times I’ve been late, cancelled at the last minute, etc.”) Is there grace for our mistakes? Yes! Do I want to use that as an excuse? No. For so many of us who are busy, it’s good for us to remember that we are serving people, not just doing projects, and to value a not-so-little thing called relational equity.

If I have “equity” in my home, it means my home is worth more than what I owe on it. If I’m “upside down” it means I owe more on that home (or car, or whatever) than what I can sell it for. In the same way, I can have equity in my relationships, or I can be upside-down in my relationships. Thankfully, even a relationship that is currently upside-down can build equity. In my own music business, JonnyDavid’s Music, it’s important that I have healthy relational equity with my clients. In the church I serve, it’s important that I have relational equity with the people who call Destination Church home. In my own marriage and family, if I don’t have healthy relational equity then I darn well better recover my priorities and let some other things go so that I can recover that equity!

How do we build and maintain relational equity? Here are three simple things that actually go a long way toward this!


Communicate with the other person.  You’re going to mess up, and you’re going to have to change plans sometimes. It’s just a fact of life! If you know you’re going to need to change the plans you made with someone, tell them as far in advance as you can. Sometimes, that’s only a few minutes ahead of time, and sometimes it’s a few days. (While writing this, I literally had to cancel an entire evening of music lessons due to potential COVID-19 exposure – just as I was saving the document and getting ready to drive. Sometimes last-minute changes are unavoidable!)

Communicate with yourself! This is why I write things down, take notes, put appointments in my calendar, and notifications from my calendar that remind me to check it! When I forget a drum lesson or a coffee appointment or a Zoom call, I have just changed on my own the plan that I made with that other person (or group). If I do this often, whether I realize it or not, I’m communicating that they are less important than I am, my time is more valuable than theirs, and their investment in our relationship is not that important to me. Every time I do this, I spend a little bit of relational equity. On the flip side, every time I do communicate, do show up, and invest into that person, I build relational equity.


Making plans together is a great way to help people feel included and valued:  planning that takes the other person and their schedule into account; checking in to see how things are going on their end; involving them as appropriate in both initial planning and in any changes that must be made; setting agreed-upon, clear expectations. As much as possible, I try to operate with a motto I learned from a good friend and leader years ago: “Plans we make together, we only change together.” I make my fall, spring, and summer teaching schedules with my clients. Yes, I have parameters and limits as to when I can and can’t teach. And within those parameters, I work with them as much as I can to make it work well for both of us. Happy clients tend to lead to happy relationships, a happy reputation, and a happy budget!


Okay, “compassion-ate” isn’t a real word, but “compassion” is. Caring is. Investing is. The old motto is true: people don’t often care how much you know until they know how much you care! And when they feel valued, they will also be more naturally forgiving toward your mistakes when they do happen. And they do happen! The Golden Rule applies here: Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Sow compassion. Sow generosity. Sow forgiveness. Sow even undeserved mercy. Very likely, the business owner, husband, wife, parent, etc. who does this will find themselves with a relational equity account well in the black. And no one is complaining about that!

By the way, the drummer-mom who wondered where I was? Her last text message ended with “No worries though! Have a great Thanksgiving :)” And I’m not worried.

Stories of us · What's Next?

A pause and a pivot.

confettiWell. It’s been a minute since we’ve been around over here. A lot has changed in the last year and a half, not the least of which is the pandemonium which seems to be 2020.  A global pandemic, protests, riots, murder hornets… Wow, 2020 has been a wild ride.  It’s also brought us a lot of time at home (I mean, a LOT) which has given us a chance to pause and reflect, and now to begin again.

To recap…

Back in 2017, we decided to pour some time and energy into using what we have “in our house,” creating more songs and resources for worship musicians around the globe. For a season, we were able to do just that, with our release of the Sharpen Your Axe blog series on worship leading, and the release of our 2018 Christmas album, “It’s Christmastime.” However, as I’m painfully aware, we then went dreadfully silent.

The last 18 months have brought unexpected changes into our lives. When we envisioned “building” JonnyDavid’s Music, we had plans of sharing resources to help equip and train future worship leaders. While working on those resources, we also needed to be bringing in income, so Jon began building his private teaching studio as well. This effort went even better than expected, with Jon teaching 3 days a week and maintaining a waiting list for open lesson slots.

As many of you know, Jon was also the assistant pastor of our church during this season, and worked 2 days a week for the church. After making it through the push of the release of “It’s Christmastime,” we paused for a breather. Then, just as we were gearing up for another semester of teaching and producing content here on the blog, we got another surprise. A few weeks into 2019, Jon’s dad, the senior pastor of our church, let us know that he would need to step down at the end of the summer due to health reasons. As you can imagine, our focus shifted dramatically from building an online presence to first determining and praying through if we were the ones to take on the leadership of our church, and once that was decided, developing a plan for leadership transition and how to move forward.

Our first few months of being the “lead couple” of our church have brought us much joy. Our small church had been looking for quite a while for a space that we could call “home” in our neighborhood, and in October, we finally were able to sign a lease on a storefront property! Redecorating and setting up the offices has been fun, but even more fun has been seeing our church family come to view the space as their own, to love it as much as we do, and to want to be there with us! Within a week after signing the lease, we had our first wedding! The sense of family that we have is beautiful and flourishing.

Enter Covid-19.

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.It’s truly been amazing to watch our small church family, many of them wary of video screens and not that excited about Facebook or social media, doggedly learning how to do new things in order to stay connected with each other while we’ve all been staying at home. We’ve missed our face to face connections, and we’ve missed worshiping together. But, even in the midst of Covid-chaos, our family has come together and, though I wasn’t sure it was possible, become even closer to each other… all through video screens!

We now seem to be, hopefully, on the back end of the lockdown. We have been meeting mask to mask for about a month, doing our best to keep everyone safe while also recognizing that precautions are and will be necessary for the foreseeable future. And while worshiping with a mask on is definitely not my favorite, I much prefer it to worshiping via video!  The pause and the pivot have given many of our church family a much needed time to reflect and respond to what God is doing in our own hearts. I truly believe this season of softening and reflecting will launch us into reaching our neighborhood in meaningful ways. We had such great plans to serve our neighborhood this Spring and early Summer, but we also know that God’s plans are not ours, and so we trust that He will accomplish His will in the Hillyard neighborhood. Even in the midst of trial, we have had opportunity to serve our community, recently handing out over 10,000 lbs of free potatoes to our Hillyard neighbors.

Looking ahead…

So, what does all of this mean for our blog, our vision to serve church leaders, and our music business? To be honest, we don’t know yet. We still have the sincere desire in our hearts to share our years of knowledge, creativity and talent with you. Learning to balance how we build resources for you, lead a church, and continue to teach is something we are looking to in the next season of life. This “Great Pause” of 2020 has given us a chance to put some things in perspective, and make some changes where we need to. It’s given us a chance to reflect on our part in issues such as systemic racism, and to listen and learn, and then to change. We continue to seek God’s heart for our neighborhood, our city, and the world, and to use our gifts to show His love to the same. Part of that will be continuing, with renewed focus, to create and share resources for you. How much and how often remains to be seen.

Here’s a hint at a couple of things that are in the works: With a little more time on our hands, Jon’s been writing songs again, and we’re hoping to share those with you in the coming months. We also have been brainstorming a worship related devotional for worship teams and leaders alike. We’re very excited about both of these projects!

In the short term, we hope to see you more often here on the blog, and over on our Instagram as well as we begin to look again to our online presence and how we can best serve worshipers, worship leaders, and musicians.  We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a line and let us know how we can serve you.

Story behind the song

Story Behind the Song: Everlasting Joy

Sometimes a recording project takes on a life of its own.  When we began our It’s Christmastime project, our intention was to record a few of our arrangements of traditional Christmas carols that we have incorporated into holiday season worship sets over the years.  And a holiday album provided us with the great opportunity to finally record “It’s Christmastime”!  But writing a new original Christmas song in the middle of a project?  We didn’t plan for it, but that’s exactly what happened! ~Becca
Jon writes:
Recording was already in full swing for the It’s Christmastime EP when I had the idea for Everlasting Joy.  While experimenting with the “island” arrangement of Joy To The World, the lyrics and melody of what I thought would be a new chorus or bridge embedded themselves into my already-crowded palette of possibilities.

2017-11-26 17.27.40

Joy, joy, joy
Everlasting joy to all the world
A Savior has been born
So worship and adore
With everlasting joy”
I was getting excited about this new addition to a well-loved arrangement, but when I asked for Becca’s input she was far less ecstatic.  “The arrangement stands on its own and doesn’t really need a new chorus,” she kindly, if hesitantly, suggested.  “Maybe I’m just sentimental, but I like the arrangement better without it.”  After processing her valuable and honest input, I realized she was right (Apparently, Isaac Watts and George Frideric Handel don’t need me in the middle of their creative work!  Shocking.), and I found myself hoping this could be the beginning of a stand-alone song if I could shift my thinking a bit.
Reading back through the Christmas story in Luke to kick-start some inspiration, the night-shattering words of the angel introducing some startled shepherds to the birth of a very special child really struck me:  “Do not fear.”  The dark of night was broken with heaven’s glorious light, and the response of those who heard and saw this supernatural display was initially… fear!  Heaven interrupted their lives, and they were terrified!  Thankfully, their fear was acknowledged and addressed (just as ours must be when we encounter the holiness of God), so that they could then receive the best news imaginable!
The birth of Jesus, the Christ Child, was truly good news, and was meant to bring great joy, both to these blue-collar shepherds and to all the peoples of the world!  While the angel’s good news had begun by addressing fear in the hearts of a small group of shepherds, the message now transitioned immediately and fully to the joyful declaration of the promised Savior!  And, just in case they thought they were experiencing some kind of group-hallucination, these shepherds would find proof in the real world that the message was legitimate:  in the town of Bethlehem they would find a baby, carefully swaddled, but lying in a manger.
What a mix this is of heavenly splendor and humble circumstance!  Who is this child?!  Luke paints us a perfect picture of Jesus: the Jewish Messiah, the Savior of the world, the eternal Son of God, the Almighty; and also the Ultimate Servant who came to seek and save the helplessly lost and broken, to identify with the lowest of the low.  The child born to reign forever would first enter the world in lowly humility.
In Everlasting Joy you’ll hear a mix of simple, child-like sounds along with more regal celebration.  From the opening xylophone riff, the song progresses to the majestic ringing of tower bells near its conclusion.  And, of course, it’s all held together with a rock band!  (Oh, and at the end of our version of Joy To The World, you can still hear the slightly-altered chorus of Everlasting Joy as an exclamation point, while hopefully still staying out of Handel’s way!)
Everlasting Joy can be listened to here, and purchased here.  Free chord charts are available for a limited time here.
Christmas Songs · Worship Leading

O Come Let Us Adore Him: Using Christmas carols in modern worship

2018-11-30 14.49.08

Have you noticed that 24-hour Christmas radio is a thing?  It seems there’s no stopping this green and crimson tide of yuletide cheer! This time of year, even people who would not identify with the gospel of Jesus Christ are listening to songs about his birth. While it may be simple nostalgia for many who are humming along to the tunes, time-tested, centuries-old carols can also bring a sense of rootedness to Christians as we sing the news of Jesus’ incarnation using the music of previous generations.

It may be shocking to hear, I know, but worship didn’t actually begin with our post-modern worship music revolution; we are a part of a rich history!

For this reason, every Christmas season I think about how to incorporate into our weekly worship gatherings some of these traditional carols that are so much a part of both the church and our broader culture.  Like many worship leaders today, my primary goal is still for people to engage with Jesus when we come together to worship, and, like many worship leaders, I sometimes struggle with the tension between singing “traditional” Christmas hymns and our desire to engage with Jesus and worship Him.

Here are a few ideas I’ve found helpful in including Christmas carols in our more musically modern church family.

Choose carols that worship Jesus as Lord.

These carols will likely still tell the story of the incarnation (God coming to earth as man), but they won’t just sing about a sleeping baby. “Sleeping Baby Jesus” carols – Did I just say that out loud?  Ha! – are perfectly fine for performance or for Christmas programs, but are more difficult to use if our goal is to engage our hearts in worshiping Him.  Rediscovering great carols like O Come All Ye Faithful can quickly lead us into adoring Jesus as the Lord He is.

Create a medley.

Join a historic carol with a more modern worship song to essentially create one seamless song from the two, new and old celebrated together. It’s like a fine vintage wine paired with a more current (hopefully!) meal.  What could have been relegated to sleepy tradition by some can instead inspire and become resounding praise. I’m reminded of Jesus’ words from the gospel of Matthew:  “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52, ESV).  As a creative person, I enjoy the challenge of blending the old and new vintages together like this!  Just one of countless possible examples is to flow from O Come All Ye Faithful right into the chorus of Savior Of The World.

Write a new chorus or bridge for that favorite carol.

If you’re a bit of a poet or, like me, are always making up tunes in the shower anyway, take up the challenge to compose even just a few fresh lyrical lines to help grab our attention and stir our hearts to praise. One of my favorite carols is Angels We Have Heard On High, and we’ve sung it frequently through many Christmases! In 2017, while planning to record our Mannheim Steamroller-inspired version of it (you can listen or download a chord chart), the following lyrics developed, bringing fresh life to this old favorite of mine.


Glory in the highest heaven

Glory to our God and King

He has come to save His people

Gloria, the nations sing

(Chorus ©2017 JonnyDavid’s Music, but we’d love for you to use it in your church context too!  If you do, please let us know!  We’d love to hear how it works for you.)

Vocal tone alone.carol-singers-77903__340

Singing a Christmas song without modernizing it like crazy is totally okay!  Two-, three-, or four-part vocal harmony done with a more pop music tone (Pentatonix, anyone?) is already going to sound more modern just because of the vocal tone.  Try it either a cappella or with traditional piano.  Hark! The Herald Angels Sing is a good option for this.

Alter the harmonic structure.

One favorite way for me to use carols (and other hymns throughout the year) is to modernize the chord structure. For my own arranging style, this usually means simplifying from chord changes every beat or two to chord changes every measure or two. (This may mean altering alto or tenor lines accordingly, but the melody line that so many people know by heart can remain unchanged.) For all of you who are now mocking me as “simple”, which is always up for debate, you can keep the musical I.Q. engaged by altering those simplified chords by adding “color” (major 7ths, 2nds, etc.). This will immediately change the “feel” of the music. The arrangement of Angels We Have Heard On High I mentioned earlier is an example of a simplified chord structure in places, with “color chords” added as well.

Compose a short introduction.


This can be as simple or as complex as you want, depending on your skill and the musicians with whom you’re worshiping, and can also be used as an interlude between verses. A simple option would be to establish a few bars of a rhythmic pattern on the tonic chord of the key (C – Csus – C – Csus). At the other end of the spectrum, one Christmas Eve we had two accomplished violinists playing with our band so I wrote out a classical-flavored duet to the above-mentioned Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. Play around with what works for your team, and stretch your own composing skills in the process!

Explore sounds from around the world.

This could mean giving O Holy Night a Celtic feel, adding specialized percussion to The Little Drummer Boy, or turning Joy To The World into a trip to the Caribbean. By the way, those are all often-used, real-world examples! Check out our version of Joy To The World, but watch out, a conga line might break out.

Of course, there’s always a legitimate place for unaltered, unedited Christmas carols in the church!  From candle-lit a cappella caroling to the rumble of the pipe organ accompanying the choir, the church can worship Jesus in a myriad of styles!  My hope is that these thoughts on how we use carols in our own local context will spur worshipful and creative thought as you plan and prepare to worship Jesus in this Christmas season!  Do you have other examples of how you’ve incorporated Christmas carols into a modern worship band?  We’d love to hear how you do it.

Merry Christmas!


Find links to chord charts for our most commonly used carols on our Resources page.

Sharpen Your Axe Series · Worship Leading

Sharpen Your Axe: Leading a Rehearsal

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Welcome back to our Sharpen Your Axe series!

While writing this final segment in our Sharpen Your Axe series, I’ve been remembering that it was in a rehearsal with several other teen-aged musicians (long, long ago in a decade far, far away) where I first heard my instrument referred to as an “axe” by an older jazz musician. Gary was a trombone player, complete with Birkenstocks and beard way before hipsters declared beards cool again. He loved creating music with us younger players, teaching us the nuances of making soulful, bluesy sounds together rather than just mechanically playing the correct notes. It was in rehearsals like this that I began to appreciate and sharpen the ensemble skills I could never master alone. Rehearsals became a place to learn and grow, to take risks, to make mistakes (while other people were listening!), and to prepare for making music in a more public environment. What I remember most though, and what I’ve carried with me through decades of rehearsals, are the amazing moments I’ve been able to share alongside musicians when no one else was around, moments of beauty and power and engaging with God together as musicians.

2018-11-21 18.14.37Just this past week, our band was talking together in rehearsal about this upcoming post and what makes for good rehearsals. Are there ingredients that make for enjoyable, maybe even memorable, rehearsals that are also practically effective preparation for a worship gathering? What kinds of things help to make this happen?

In my experience, there are three foundational aspects we are wise to include in rehearsals:  practical musical preparation, worship, and friendship.

We don’t call it “rehearsal” or “practice” for no reason! We’re there to prepare ourselves as much as possible to lead God’s people in worshiping Him through music. The age-old Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared!” works for more than camping trips. God Himself declares the importance of preparation in presenting the good news of Jesus:  “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming. . . ” (Malachi 3:1, ESV)

Before rehearsal ever starts, some preparation needs to occur. This organizational leadership will help the rehearsal have a clear enough structure to give everyone involved clear expectations.

  • Have a plan. If you know what you want to accomplish in rehearsal, it’s a lot easier to get there! You can always adjust the plan, and flexibility will always be important, but start with a plan. This will put the musicians at ease, build trust in your leadership, and give everyone a common goal.
  • Make copies of any necessary music (or send them out digitally to everyone), and let the musicians know ahead of time if there is anything they need to listen to prior to rehearsal.
  • Start and end on time, and be sure everyone knows before rehearsal what those times are. In some cultures this shows respect for people’s time and other commitments, whereas in other cultures this is less important. (You can always jam for a while with those who want to stay late, but have an official ending time and stick to it.)
  • Pray. “Attitude is everything!” Your attitude will significantly shape the atmosphere for your time together. If you are happy to be there and happy to have the opportunity to be practicing with these musicians and spending time with them, your attitude will be contagious! If you’re tired and not excited to be there, that is contagious as well, so it’s a good idea to spend some time praying as you’re preparing for rehearsal, reminding yourself of the joy of your salvation–Jesus–and thanking Him for the musicians with whom you get to make music. Nothing gets me “centered” and prepared to lead a rehearsal like reminding myself of how great the gospel is, how wonderful Jesus is, and what a privilege I have to worship with other musicians and to help shape the worship of the church.

Once you’ve prepared your mind and heart for rehearsal, it’s time to take a look at how to use your time with your musicians effectively.  We’re ready to dig into the foundational aspects of a rehearsal.

Practical Musical Preparation

You likely won’t use absolutely every one of these nine  practical musical elements in every rehearsal, but they’ll be a part of a healthy long-term rehearsal “diet”. (As I suggested in an earlier post on practicing well individually, keep each detail portion of the rehearsal to smaller chunks; then come back to the big picture so you can all enjoy the fruits of your hard work!)

  1. Tuning. Hopefully we value playing in tune! Guitarists and bassists can easily tune on their own, but wind instruments and strings should tune together to either A 440 or to the piano. (If you’re using an acoustic piano, all the instruments, even the guitars, should tune to it because if it’s slipped from A 440 you can’t just quickly fix it! The rest of us can more easily adjust our instruments.)
  2. Sound check. Hopefully we can hear each other, so we can play as a unit! I like to have a “sound check song” prepared, something easily accessible (maybe a song we already know well) that we can have some fun with together too. Then our sound check can quickly move into a few minutes of jamming and worshiping together.
  3. Rehearse the songs for the upcoming worship gathering.
  4. Vocal harmony work. Rehearsal is the perfect place to figure out how that melody or harmony REALLY goes, when to add it, when to double it, and when to leave it out. Check out our post on vocals in worship for more vocal rehearsal ideas.
  5. Instrumental “groove”, blend, melodic “lead” lines. Rehearsal is the perfect place to fix the rhythms that keep throwing off the band, or to work out those special “extras” that make songs more interesting. It’s also the place to practice the 100% Rule: the whole band together makes up 100% of the sound, so each musician must learn how to make room for the others, not dominating the mix through over-playing, but rather learning when to play out and when “less is more”.
  6. Transitions between songs and key changes within songs. Rehearsal is a great place to turn song transitions from awkward to powerful, from “choppy” to seamless. This is a good place for the ensemble to grow in some basic music theory skills too. “What makes the key change work, and why?”
  7. Prepare to be spontaneous! Options create opportunities! As opposed to just playing through song arrangements, a great way to keep things fresh is to practice alternate endings to songs. “What if we want to end it quietly and intimately?” “What if we want to end it ‘big’?” “What if we end it on a verse instead of at the chorus?” Another way we build spontaneity is to memorize a go-to chord progression (for example, the interlude chord progression at the end of a chorus) that we can just keep repeating while someone prays, a Scripture is read, or we want to just spend a few moments enjoying God’s presence. Take it even farther and start memorizing entire songs. The more music you have internalized, the more you can recall it when you need it, the less you’ll be tied to the music on the page, and the more flexible you can be!
  8. Stretch the ensemble. This could be through a new music style, a more musically advanced piece, or through working on blend, etc. Picking some music that will stretch the group while also being within reasonable reach with some hard work will help grow the team as musicians, strengthening skills and opening doors for more musical expression in the future. In our Destination Church worship band, we rehearsed the song “Amazing” in four different rehearsals before we felt confident and comfortable enough to lead it on a Sunday morning.
  9. Learn new music. Keep learning fresh music. Leaders are learners, and learning new music keeps us on our toes and keeps the adventure alive!

How we string these nine things together though the course of a rehearsal is shaping more than a song set; it really is helping to shape the culture of worship within the worship team and the church. This leads us to the other two elements of a rehearsal.

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Friendship & Worship

Of course, there will be busy seasons when we fly in the door, rehearse our music, and return to our busy lives, but over time we can cultivate much more than that. We’re not just “professionals” doing a job for the church, and the way we include time for friendship, prayer, and worship–not only playing and singing songs, but time spent enjoying and engaging with one another and with God together–can change the hearts, minds, and lives of the musicians who are likely volunteering their time and talent to serve the church in this way.

  • Invite musicians to come early to help set up and to help wrap up after rehearsal. This is more than taking ownership in the ensemble (although it is that); this is creating opportunity for friendship and relationship. The time before rehearsal, the banter and joking during rehearsal, and the time afterward are just as important as the rehearsal itself. Conversations about life happen while we’re setting up and tearing down equipment!
  • Pray together and for one another. Consider building in time during rehearsal for prayer, and involve everyone in praying for whatever “performance” you’re preparing for together. God may speak specific direction as you pray, helping the team minister more effectively when the church gathers. Praying for one another toward the end of rehearsal (maybe breaking into smaller groups to do that if you have a large ensemble) is another good way to pour back into those who are volunteering their time.
  • Worship Jesus Together. Practice What You Preach! If you are leading a church in worship in your weekly gatherings, spend time worshiping together in your rehearsal too. The musicians in the ensemble are more than worship facilitators for others but full members of the church that can learn to really enjoy meeting with Jesus while they play and sing. Worship Jesus in rehearsal. Pray to Jesus in rehearsal. Centering on Jesus shapes the whole “feel” of the rehearsal. As the band learns to express their hearts through music and prayer to Jesus, something supernatural happens: we move beyond playing notes to standing in awe of God together. This changes everything!
  • Discussion. Why not take a few minutes to discuss a Scripture passage together relating to an aspect of worship: who Jesus is, what He’s done, why He’s done it, and how we respond to Him biblically? Both the general gospel foundations of our faith and the many Scripture passages regarding music, praise, prayer, celebration, adoration, etc. are great topics to create meaningful conversation. And, by the way, it’s okay to just talk about music and life, too!

If we can create a rehearsal atmosphere that is more than just practice for some other event, musicians will look forward to it.

Rehearsal itself can become a time of relationship building, meeting with God, and the obvious time of musical improvement that we all recognize is so beneficial!

We’d love to hear from you what makes your rehearsals special, and if there are aspects to how you run a rehearsal that we may not have included. Also, if this Sharpen Your Axe series has been helpful to you please feel free to share it with friends! We hope it has been useful and given you more tools for your worship leading toolbox!

Our adventure continues as we enter the holiday season; look for our next post very soon as we talk about creative ways to use traditional Christmas carols in a modern worship band.

Check out the other posts in the Sharpen Your Axe series:  Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Story behind the song

Story Behind the Song: Satisfy

It’s hard to believe that October is almost over and we are shortly heading into the holiday season.  I love the holiday season and the wonderful traditions with family it brings.  I don’t love the busy-ness that surrounds the season, and the commercialism that often seems to overtake our lives as we hunt for those “perfect gifts” for each person on our list.  During these times, I love listening to Jon’s song, “Satisfy,” from the Amazing project.  It’s such a perfect reminder that Jesus is truly the only one who satisfies our souls.  ~Becca

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Jon writes:

Everything that we need is found in Jesus!  Nothing else will satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts.  Not fortune or fame, not success or recognition.  Nothing.  Jesus takes us as we are though, irrespective of our accomplishments or failures, and He outshines them all.  What’s even more amazing is that He draws out of us things we never would have found on our own.  We become who we were truly created to be in Him.  The best satisfaction in life comes in knowing Him and letting Him shape us into what He knows we are supposed to be!

Our prayer for you during this final quarter of 2018 is that you also find your satisfaction in the love of Jesus.

Listen to “Satisfy” on YouTube, and find it on iTunes.  Contact us for chord charts.

Sharpen Your Axe Series · Worship Leading

Sharpen Your Axe: Vocalists in Worship

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Finally!!  It’s been a busy season around here, and we’re preparing to launch Destination Church here in Spokane on September 9, 2018.  This has me thinking a lot about worship and worship leading, not to mention how to build a healthy worship team.  With that in mind, vocalists, this long-promised installment of Sharpen Your Axe is especially for you!

Our last post on ensemble skills touched on several key vocal skills, so we won’t rehash all that here.  But you can check out this post to read up on those.  And we will touch on a few more “nuts and bolts” of singing a little later in this post.  First though, we want to talk about the importance of vocal musicians in the worship ensemble, and the significant role they play both when “on stage” and as a part of the congregation.

Uniquely in the ensemble, vocalists are the audible and visible model for what the rest of the gathered church can express in their worship.  The voice is uniquely important to the worship ensemble.

It is with our voices that we blend the beauty of the music with the eloquence of words to create expression that is unlike any other instrument.

music-844655__340Vocalists, don’t get caught up in the lie that you are somehow less important to the ensemble because you don’t hold an instrument in your hands.  The voice’s unique expression of love, passion, and adoration, as well as a myriad of other emotions, are one of the most important parts of the worship ensemble.  And while there’s usually only one drummer, one bassist, one or two guitarists, one pianist, keyboardist, etc, every person who gathers to worship can use their voice or their body language to:

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord…” (Psalm 98:4)

“Oh sing to the LORD a new song…” (Psalm 98:1)

“Clap your hands, all peoples!  Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” (Psalm 47:1)

“Lift up your hands in the holy place and bless the LORD!”  (Psalm 134:2)

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)

“Let them praise his name with dancing…” (Psalm 149:3)

Every vocalist in the ensemble – not just the lead vocalist – is a worship leader for the gathered church.

mic-1132528__340You may not sing into the microphone the whole time, or even on every song, but your active engagement with Jesus is modeling worship for the church.  In fact, what you do during those times you’re not in the microphone can inspirationally lead everyone else, a visual reminder that worship is not just music, but our hearts responding to God!  !  (On a practical note:  The arrangement of a song will very likely include  places where the melody should be doubled, and places where it should not be doubled.  There are also times when three- or four-part harmony is great, and times when one harmonic line is plenty!  Your ensemble will work that out together, but maturing musicians will understand that there will be times you aren’t singing in the mic.)

Some things to think about:

  • When you lift your hands in adoration, surrender, or celebration of Jesus’ victory, you are giving permission to the church to express their hearts to their Savior. And, as members of the ensemble who don’t have an instrument in your hands, you are in a unique position to be able to model this for your congregation.
  • When you clap, dance, sing, or even shout at appropriate times, you are modeling what joy can look like, and giving permission to the church to enjoy God as He desires. Being aware of your body language and facial expressions and communicating joy here is important.  (We like to remind all of our musicians that “If you’re happy and you know it – TELL YOUR FACE!!”)
  • When you use your voice for the powerful tool of emotional expression that it is, you are communicating the meaning of the words you are singing, and giving permission to the congregation to feel and understand the same. For example, when you sing out strongly and confidently, you are demonstrating that the gospel is something to be proud of and to be celebrated. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16, ESV).


Male vocalists, this is not just for the ladies!  It is very helpful for the men in the church to see other strong men leading them in celebratory worship.  Guys, when you sing, clap, lift your hands, and celebrate, you are communicating that worship and praise is for men, too.  Maybe that should seem obvious, but from experience, many men struggle with not wanting to appear “weak” or “non-masculine,” and equate singing with more feminine stereotypes.  A strong male vocalist can help break down many barriers for those men.

Female vocalists, you are genuinely serving and leading the church in the way you sing and worship.  Whether it’s strong, confident vocals or smoother, softer elements, you are creating an atmosphere with your voice.  Let Jesus inspire His people through you.

Remember, vocalists, this time of gathered worship is all about Jesus!  Learn your vocal parts well enough so that when the church comes together you can get beyond merely singing the right words and notes, and really engage with Jesus for yourself!  This also means that, on the one hand, there’s no need to show off; be humble.  And on the other hand, there’s no need to be timid; be confident!  Be yourself, whether you’re singing in the microphone one day or singing from the congregation on another.  Being a Christ-focused worshiper in both roles will have greater influence than you probably imagine.

Now for those “nuts and bolts.”

As with any musician, there are elements of singing that make a vocalist a greater asset to a worship ensemble.  There are lots of things that make for a great vocalist, but here are three essentials that are the “lowest common denominator” for every vocalist who wants to serve the church using their singing voice:

  1. Sing on pitch. Those who lead the church musically do so best when they have the ability to control their voice so that they are singing in tune.  Everyone else is following these singers, so it’s important that they can sing the correct notes without being sharp (above the desired pitch) or flat (below the desired pitch).
  2. Sing with a pleasant sound. “Pleasant” is a relative term, subject to the culture and the individual church.  (There are churches where my own rock/pop voice would not be desirable and wouldn’t blend with their sound, just as operatic singers may find it difficult to blend in with my sound.)  Basically, the sound of the vocalists who lead the rest of the church in a microphone should sound “good.”  They don’t have to be professionals, but a good sound will enhance rather than distract others as they worship.
  3. Sing with an appropriate range. Most effective congregational worship music that is meant for the whole church to sing together will fit into the following range:  A (below middle “C”) to E (1 ½ octaves above that).  Male vocals will actually be singing an octave below this.  Some worship songs will cheat on this rule just a little on both the high and the low ends, touching down to low “G”(hard for most men) and reaching up occasionally to “F” or even “F#” (hard for most ladies), but the vocalists in the typical worship ensemble need to develop the A-E range.  If singing harmonies, there may be a need to stretch just a bit higher or lower.  More advanced groups will likely expect this.

If you can sing on pitch with a nice sound over an octave-and-a-half range from A to E, and you are comfortable learning to express your heart to Jesus in front of others, you are becoming a great asset in helping to lead people in worshiping Jesus!

Now, whether you’re a vocalist, an instrumentalist, a worship leader, or the chief musician responsible for getting the ensemble ready for the “public,” let’s look ahead to the final post in the Sharpen Your Axe series here at Jonathan Meek Music, and think about this:  What makes for a really good rehearsal that makes a musician want to come back for more?  Come back next time and we’ll talk about it!