There Were No Easter Baskets

Time just keeps moving us forward. There’s no greater reminder of this for me, lately, than holidays. What once was a foregone conclusion; holiday, big dinner, everybody home – has morphed into something that requires a lot of mobility and flexibility.

Such was Easter this year. The boys are gone, off on a mission trip with their dad in New York City. Sarah is in Savannah. Shannon and Sydni came home for the weekend. Tony and I are still here, and everything swirls around us. 
No complaints. Just the way it is. And I’m okay with that.
Easter was an amazing celebration at our church. I read this post today and realized that I have moved past the emotions he describes into something that is grounded in joy and optimism, more so than in recent years. It is tangible and it is good, and today was an explosion of grace and goodness that I still find

Connie Kottman’s art

inexplicable; but I accept it for what it is and give thanks for a community of faith that gives us room to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

And a good bit of singing and shouting.
There were no Easter baskets for our family this year, which felt a bit odd. But church and a full table and good conversation made up for the absence of candy, fake grass and chocolate bunnies.
It’s been a busy few weeks around here, but I’ve been taking notes. Here’s some links I highly recommend, from writers all connected with PCC in some way:
You can watch today’s service here

Changes

“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…”

To quote David Bowie.

I’ve been on staff at PCC as the primary worship leader ever since I’ve started here, seven years ago. The church has grown, our team of musicians has grown.

And I’ve grown. Sideways, sometimes. But that counts, too. I’ve probably learned as much from my failures and mistakes as I have from things we’d say were successful.

When I came to PCC I was very broken, very unsure of myself in many ways. The one thing I knew was that worship was my lifeblood. I’ve been a musician all of my life. I am most myself when I am making music. The invitation to make music at PCC – and to carefully tend a leadership role – was a pivotal point in my life, not only professionally, but also spiritually and emotionally.

So I started singing and playing and leading. And growing.

And the church grew, too.

Growing things change.

It’s been obvious that God has directed some incredibly talented people towards the creative arts team, and in order for them to grow and learn, we’re shifting a few responsibilities around in our leadership structure. These changes won’t make a huge difference in your Sunday morning experience, as you’re accustomed to seeing these folks on stage already; but I thought I’d make an official introduction to you.

Matthew O’Donnell has been at PCC for about 18 months. He came with his family, started making music with us and basically never stopped. Matthew is talented, passionate and loves God. He has a unique mix of intelligence, musical ability and leadership gifting that presented us with an obvious responsibility: To help him grow and learn to use those gifts here at his home church. That’s what we’re doing. I’m glad to share the news that Matthew is the new Worship Coordinator at the Powhatan Campus.

Matt O’Rear came to PCC in the spring of 2012.  Matt and his family worshiped at the Westchester Campus for several months; we had a chance meeting at a local restaurant. Sammy introduced Matt to Lindsay and I and mentioned that he played music. We invited him to come play for us right then and there; he got directions, grabbed a guitar and came to the Powhatan Campus and played for us. Matt’s background includes music business studies at NYU,  music production and engineering studies at Berklee College of Music and church music at Southeastern University. He loves God and is passionate about musical worship. Matt will be the Worship Coordinator at the Westchester Campus.

And although she’s not named “Matthew”, Laura Krzyston has joined the PCC staff as well. You might recall a blog post introducing Laura as our Artist In Residenceit’s been wonderful to have her on board as part of our creative team. She’s written some amazing songs and continued to grow as a part of our community, working with our musicians as well as student ministry. Laura feels strongly that God has called her to travel, but for this current season she is responding to a strong tug towards Fork Union. She will partner with Chauncey Starkey to build a team of musicians at Fork Union, and plans to be part of that community as a resident. Laura holds a degree in music from VCU, has a passionate love for God and is committed to the work of the local church.

I am thrilled to see these three talented individuals step out to invest their time, talent and resources in the work that God is doing in and through PCC. We are better for their presence among us, and as they continue to grow as leaders we will benefit from their imprint on our church. Nothing makes me prouder than to stand in the back of the room and worship under their leadership!

And that’s what I’ll be doing…on some days. Matt, Matthew and Laura will carry a large part of the scheduling and rehearsing for weekend services, and they’ll be on the platform leading consistently. I’m still part of the worship team, and I’ll still  play and sing – but, a lot of my energy will now be focused on equipping and encouraging these new leaders and helping them to be successful. I’ll continue to lead our programming team as the Creative Director and serve on our senior leadership team as we develop strategy and systems for growth.

My friend Walter pointed out that I have a strong maternal streak; I want to protect people in our ministry. I want to see them soar, too. As I grow older, I am beginning to understand that this maternal instinct is a part of my leadership style. It might not be a good fit for a Fortune 500 company, but it’s part of the unique wiring that God gave me. I think it’s a good fit for His people, too.

I’m glad for it.

I hope you’ll welcome Matthew, Matt and Laura – and I hope you’ll prayerfully support and encourage all the leaders of PCC as we move into a new, exciting year of change!

Advice To Worship Leaders

I was driving home this afternoon, and I had this thought:

I’m really humble.


No, really.

Isn’t that crazy? I mean, what kind of person calls themselves humble and is, in fact, humble? Isn’t that a big, fat oxymoron?

I remember being in a conversation once – for the life of me, I can’t remember who, but that’s par for the course these days, because I’m lucky if I can remember my own name. It’s hormonal, I think.

Anyway – where was I? Oh, right. That conversation.

Somebody was telling me about themselves in regards to serving on our arts team, and the comment they made was, “Oh, I get humility. I’m the most humble person you’ll ever meet.”


Now that is messed up.

But back to my point: It has to do with the way I do my job. I had lots of meetings this week, with lots of dialogue and conversation. I’m working on some strategic planning for the summer that involves a good bit of collaboration. And in every one of those situations, I’m investing time and energy into processing, thinking through and then pitching ideas – my ideas. That’s what I get paid for, that’s my calling, that’s my role and responsibility. I’m often invited into places where my opinion or evaluation is requested, and I tread very carefully; but I use my brain and my experience and my discernment and I offer ideas and suggestions and plans. Sometimes with a great deal of passion.

Then there’s the music leading part, too; I have strong feelings about how we’re called to serve the church and one another as musicians. I also have strong feelings about how songs ought to sound and how a service ought to flow, about who has potential and a calling to lead worship and who might not be quite ready. I’m not ashamed of voicing those opinions, of pushing through to create things that I believe will honor God and inspire people. Things that will be excellent.

But undergirding all this opining and leading that I do is a very specific underlying assumption. I rest my pride and ego upon it, and I also balance a great deal of confidence here, because I know, ultimately, that working from this premise makes me better. And makes our team better.

Regardless of all my great ideas, I always believe that somebody else has a better idea. 

I always believe that somebody else is more on top of things, smarter, brighter, more effective, more efficient. Not just that they might, but that they are. And that they have better ideas than I do.

At its worst, I’ll cling to this life-raft of insecurity and cry myself a pity party in which I am old and decrepit and useless and jealous. Oh, yes. Sometimes that happens.

But at its best, I passionately believe that I am leaning hard into Paul’s words in Philippians*, which I think are dead on:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others. 

Or, as creatively voiced by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

This is important to me. I think it’s important to my job, to our church, and ultimately, to the community. I think it resonates with me because I’ve screwed up so royally by looking to my own selfish interests first and foremost, by being obsessed with getting what I wanted. I’ve swung the pendulum the other way.

It’s better this way. And it matters.

If I could give counsel to any person leading in the creative arts field, most especially to worship leaders, I would say this: the sooner you own this sort of humility, the better. You’ll be better. The people you lead will be better. And even though you might say stupid things to yourself like, “Gee – I’m really humble!”, in the long run it’ll be fine. It works.

*Philippians 2.3

Dripping Wet

We’re leading worship at Eric’s church tomorrow.

We practiced tonight.

There was something magical about it. Comfortable, familiar, but new and transformative.

I miss the part of making music that changes me. Leading – always leading – is hard, because the leadership always has to transcend the artistry. If there are other people on the stage with you, you have to lead, if you’re the leader. There’s no escape. Sometimes – most times – that’s an awesome privilege. Sometimes – most times – it’s also very heavy.

When somebody else is wearing that hat, the opportunity for pure joy arrives. And when you trust that person implicitly – on a personal level as well as a musician – say, for instance, that person is your brother – then heaven cracks open to give your soul a chance to sing.

Sometimes you don’t know how dry you are until somebody pours a bucket of water on your head. Tonight, I’m soaked.

Like Jonathan

My heart is swelling.

I’m sure pride is sinful in some way; “pride goeth before a fall” and all that…

But I am PROUD. No other way to say it.

Three of the young men pictured have been part of my life in some way since 2000, when we first moved from Texas to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. We met Steve Smith (center), his brother Jeff (fourth from the left) and Dan Prout (furthest to the right) at Fellowship Bible Church. They were awesome, intelligent young men who appreciated the challenges of living a life of faith. They loved God. They loved their families. They loved their church.

And they loved music.

Some of my very favorite memories are from summer VBS weeks, where these guys and a few others would get together to be the worship band. I got to lead with them for a few years and we had such amazing times, learning ridiculously fun songs for kids and leading them in worship every morning with crazy passion. I was privileged to have some incredible moments of worship with Steve, Jeff and Dan – the kind that sear your soul with the presence of God and leave you changed.

These guys are all amazing musicians. Gifted songwriters, good friends to one another and to others. Passionate about life and people and Jesus.

They’ve just released a really good EP. I really hope you’ll check it out. The depth of writing is excellent, the recording quality is stellar, and they’ve got some great music on this album.

You can listen to them here.

Better yet, buy the EP at iTunes here.

You might want to familiarize yourself with their music, because we’re working on getting them down here in October to be part of some PCC worship experiences. Now that will be incredible.

I can’t wait to introduce you to these guys.

I am SO proud!

Having Myself A Moment At The Dedication Service

Dedication service tonight.

So many passionate musicians on the stage. So much sound and passion rising from the platform.
Technical stuff pulled off – sometimes at the last minute – inspiring and honoring God. Lights. Staging. Transitions.
An amazing video piece, written and narrated by Angie Frame. Filmed and edited by Regina Revels, with musical selections suggested by Brian Hughes. A powerful and to-the-point message from Brian. A violin!
In the midst of all this, I heard a whisper from God. At the risk of sounding incredibly presumptuous, I am going to share it here. Because I feel like it’s not just for me.
As we closed our celebration with “He Is Yahweh” and “You Are Good”, I had myself a moment. Overwhelmed by the people around me – people whom I have come to love and care for so deeply – I hear this whisper. Tiny, quiet, brief – but more powerful than I can possibly convey. We worshiped. God responded.
In my heart, I heard five simple words:
“I AM PLEASED WITH YOU.”
Meant the world to me.
I hope you were there. If you weren’t, I’m sorry. But it was just a brief taste of heaven. And I can’t think of anything I’d rather hear than those five words, from the Creator of the Universe. I just talked about that today in the morning service – how God meets us, shows up, changes us, offers transformation, helps us “get it”. And tonight, I had myself a moment.
It was awesome.

Pianos And Prayers

We had rehearsal tonight in our new space – our first “regular” Wednesday night rehearsal. Last week was so frenetic and packed with energy that it didn’t seem normal.

Tonight was normal. It was really….weird…to be out of the the little trailer, where we all practically stood on top of one another to practice. Now we’re on this huge expanse of stage.
We’re rehearsing with the Avion in-ear monitors.
We can hear (for the most part).
We’re running video to set up songs.
We can leave our gear out.
I don’t have to perch the keyboard on the conference table.
The singers don’t have to stand in Lori’s office because there’s no room for them in the main room.
It’s “real”.
And it feels so funky.
I’m so, so grateful – there are so many things that we’ll be able to do in terms of our vision and the mission of our church. Having this building opens up so many possibilities. In the long run, it’s going to be terrific.
But these first few initial weeks of change feel a tad bit painful, honestly.
I realized tonight, as we went through “None Like Jesus” (yeah – if you love that song, don’t miss this Sunday…), that I was grieving something specific.
I miss the grand piano at the high school.
I’ve never played at a church that didn’t have an acoustic piano as an option. I am, first and foremost, a pianist. My preference is to play the real deal. I love the keyboards we use, and I’m grateful for them. But the sheer pleasure of sitting on the bench and making music on the instrument that I’ve played for over 30 years now; that’s unmatched by anything in my life.
In this building, that option is gone. There’s no baby grand hiding in the wings.
It makes me sad. I’m hoping that at some point in the future, we’ll be able to get one. Funds are tight right now; although it’s part of the big picture in terms of equipment, it’s sunk pretty low on the list of priorities. Actually, it’s probably not even ON the list any more. There are so many things more necessary right now. Like ceiling tiles and tables. Flooring for the youth room. Asphalt for the parking lot.
So I’m hoping that one day….
Shoot, let’s just be honest. I’m hoping that somebody in Powhatan will read this and remember that there’s a baby grand sitting at home – preferably a Yamaha – that they would love to donate.
I’ll be praying about that….