Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hitting hard.

I love those moments when God taps you on the shoulder and says ‘I told you so’.

There are points in your life when you realise that there are things that you can’t do or probably shouldn’t take on. You realise the limits of your capacity and it’s a bit of a humbling moment. Up until recently, my response at those points has been one of reckless ambition and defiance, while I can hear my wife, Anna, in the background whispering ‘Are you sure?’ I say whispering. She was probably saying it quite clearly but I had my hearing filter switched to overdrive.

A few years ago, I can remember my good friend and pastor, Andy Arscott, referring to me as a special weapon that we need to keep razor sharp with regard to my worship leading gifting to get maximum benefit from me as part of the church body; that it wouldn’t be right to blunt me by using me in other areas. It’s the same for all of us. God gives us different gifts and abilities so that we can bless each other. ‘ If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing?’ 1 Cor 12: 12 – 31. There are times when I’d really like to be an ear when I’m quite clearly a finger. Or a backside.

I quite often end up the butt of church jokes. (Quite literally – I’m often referred to as BeyoncĂ© by some of the reprobates hanging around the church office). It’s regularly brought up that I have the pastoral and administrative skill of a buffalo, yet I’ve been chomping at the bit for years to have a go at improving in those areas. A couple of years ago, Anna and I were given the responsibility of leading a home group. Full of eagerness we launched into it. It had dawned on me that leading another group pastorally and administratively would improve me in those areas. I’m sure it did in some regards, but it killed me in most other areas. Leading the worship team took a hit. Family life took a hit. Church took a hit. Our worship team is not as good as it was two years ago. We lost a lot of momentum by me striving to be something I’m not.

When Stu and Andy suggested we step back from leading a home group at the start of the summer so I could concentrate on getting the worship team right, I was like ‘Whose idea was it for us to lead one in the first place?!’ We totally love the guys that God gave us for that season, but the most loving thing for them was for us not to be leading them at a home group, but to be leading them in worship.

Our worship engine room is about to roar into action again. I’ve discovered the importance of delegation and have acquired a MMMMONSTER administrator in the shape of Ben Homer, who has the gig schedule of a musician with a very full gig schedule, but still manages to find about 70 hours more than anyone else in the week to help with Church bits and pieces. He’s my special weapon. If you lead a worship team and haven’t got a Homer then get one.

Homer the homing missile.

Realising your own personal limits and capacity is one of the most delimiting things you can do for your church. I’m not saying that God doesn’t give grace to mould you into other shapes. Our lead pastor, Stu Alred is an amazing example of God’s transforming love and power. When we met, not long after he became a Christian only 8 years ago, he was by no means a people person - grumpy, rude, disinterested etc. But God has changed him beyond recognition and I now see him way ahead of most leaders of his generation. Each year I see more of the impact of the Gospel on his life, loving people more and more.

What I am saying though is that if God has already clearly given you grace for a certain area of serving, you should maybe consider that He might want to use you for maximum impact in that area. It’s something I learned the hard way.

Maximum impact. Aim to hit hard in the way God made you to hit hardest.

Friday, 31 August 2012

5 things I learned leading Ignite @ Westpoint youth

Last weekend I had the privilege of leading around 100 – 150 twelve to sixteen year olds in worship at our regional Newfrontiers conference.  Sharing the sessions with me was Owen Hayward from Plymouth, a great guy with bags of gifting for leading worship and more administrative gifting than myself ;-). 

It certainly felt like it was going to be a challenge. A lot of our teens are used to going to Newday each year, an experience that includes an enormous sound system and about 6000 other teenagers. Comparisons are inevitably made. You’ve got to do things completely differently. There’s not much point in trying to replicate the same thing with 3% of the numbers. Sure our sound system was big enough for our context and we made enough noise to make ourselves heard across the whole site, but we had an opportunity to do something that arguably Newday can’t achieve.

So here we go. Here’s what God taught me and reinforced in my thinking through the experience.

  • Small gatherings enable more body ministry, allowing us to be built together more. God’s voice becomes ‘broader and louder’.

Our youth are great and ready to own responsibility for the others in the room.  During each session we had kids who were ready to prophesy, bring words of knowledge (knowing about things that only God could know, often regarding illness or disability), pray for healing, bring messages in languages given by the Spirit and interpret them. I saw kids who wouldn’t have dreamed of sharing in a regular, adult Sunday morning meeting developing in spiritual gifts they probably never had faith to use before.  When the body of the church starts ministering to each other, it makes front-led ministry pale in comparison. I’m sure God did far more in the gaps between the songs I played than He did with the songs themselves. Why limit yourself to one person relating what God is doing when you can have three or four? We get a much broader perspective of who God is and what He is saying to us.

  • No matter how good or important you think the next song on your list is, the direction the Spirit wants to go in is always better.

In my first two sessions, I was about to start my 3rd song when on both occasions God said to me ‘go intimate now’. On both occasions they were big songs I was itching to play, especially my new one during the first session! Instead, I sang out in tongues (my spiritual prayer language) and waited for an interpretation so we could all say amen. The first time it happened, a young lad interpreted, the second time, I did. Immediately we had prophecies, words of knowledge and several people got healed. Had I stayed on my alternative course, I’m sure there wouldn’t have been time to get through all of that which God ended up doing!

  • Enjoy the day of small things.

It’s a fast track to maturity. God teaches you loads and gives you a bigger perspective of how His Kingdom works, that He is inclusive and wants multiple gifts on offer.

  • Our region has a phenomenal future.

If some of our young men and women continue on their current trajectory then we are going to have some brilliant leaders from their generation. These guys are unashamed and own the vision of building the Kingdom of God with their whole hearts. I hope they keep the childlike faith that led to so many getting healed and ministered to.

  • Tongues and interpretations are the equivalent of spiritual dynamite!

Nothing triggers things spiritually like using the prayer language that the Spirit gives. It’s something so clearly not of this world and waiting on God for an interpretation gets our ears in tune, opening us up to His voice so we can receive prophecies and words of knowledge.

All in all, Ignite was fantastic. Duncan Lee led the team brilliantly. We saw God working in minds, hearts and bodies, we knew His presence was going with us and that He delights in us and what we’re doing.

Ignite is the future.

Boom time.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Creativity, Finance, Tensions and Hearing the Voice of God

I'm turning 30 this year and sometimes I can't help but feel that I should be a lot further on in life than I am. I'm going to be honest about how I've got to where I've got and I hope you find wisdom in what I say and you find it helpful for choices you make in the future, particularly if you're young and wanting to pursue music and worship leading specifically as a potential source of income. I hope I raise some thought-provoking questions in you.

Being good at creative stuff is a real blessing. I thank God that He's used me and my songs in our church during my time in Exeter. It's been such a joy to lead people in Spirit and Truth filled worship. I love being a musician in my two jobs in church and prison.

But for me sometimes I feel it's also been somewhat of a stumbling block. I'm sure there are other guys out there, particularly young worship leaders for who this is true. It's a passion and a thrill and it's all you want to do, but it doesn't pay well if you're at my level which is a 'not quite good enough' to do it full time kind of level. You can feel like you're getting led up the garden path and at the end of it find yourself in a place of disillusionment and financial lack.

For the past five years I have sacrificed financially to do what I do and it's been tough for me and my family, but I have been following what I genuinely felt God was calling me to for this season, which is to equip the Church with worship music, and as a result I've found jobs that have allowed me to do that and allowed me to grow in my gifting. I'm now at point where my priorities have to change. It could be so easy to look back now and label the choices we made as unwise or foolish.

But what do you do with the fact that we very definitely heard God call us to stay and build His Church in Exeter? You can't ignore His voice. I have a degree in French and German which elsewhere might get me a better job, but in the South West is about as useful as putting mudguards on a tortoise. (I do wish I had done something vocational at university). The moment Anna and I decided to stay in Exeter we knew it was going to be tough and that we wouldn't be able to use our full academic gift sets. We knew God had called us here, we couldn't ignore Him and that meant sacrifice. So in the end I guess I've ended up doing the other thing that I'm good at – music.

People often challenge me as to whether being in Exeter and doing what I'm doing is the right thing. I believe it was right to stay here. We've achieved more than I could have ever hoped or dreamed of. I don't regret living here or having focussed on developing my gifting in a way that meant sacrificing. By the grace of God our marriage is good, we have a roof over our heads, two wonderful little boys, we belong to an amazing church with passionate, loving leadership and we've had the privilege of building God's kingdom in a very deep and powerful way.

Things do have to change now in employment priorities and we've known that for a while. We know we've made financial mistakes and could have been a lot wiser at certain points.

But what I think I'm trying to say is this: When God calls you to follow and obey, He can often also call you to sacrifice. Just because things have been difficult or unwise from a worldly perspective doesn't mean that you're in the wrong place. Wisdom is dynamic and teaches us through all sorts of situations. Listen out for her voice. Listen to the Spirit and look for Jesus. If it looks to you like He will call you to a vocation and region that will mean you're financially blessed then that's wonderful. But if He calls you to a life that means that you'll never buy a house but only rent for the rest of your life then that's wonderful too. Just listen for His voice and obey when He speaks.

To finish I'll leave you with something Leonard Ravenhill once said about John Wesley:

John died in 1791, converted at 35. Turn that round it makes 53. Add them together it makes 88. Because he was saved at 35, preached for 53 years. And you know what he left when he died? He left a handful of books, a faded Geneva gown that he preached in all over England, six silver spoons somebody gave him, six pound notes, “give one to each of the poor men that carry me to my grave.” And that’s all he left: six pound notes, six silver spoons, a handful of books, a Geneva gown and ah… there's something else... what was it, the other thing? Oh, I know, something else... he left, the Methodist Church

He could have died as rich as your famous TV preacher Sunday. Sure he made money, and he built orphanages. Sure he made money, he printed bibles. Sure he made money. He compiled, with Charles, the Methodist hymnbook and look at his orphanages.
And he died worth about thirty dollars.

He printed bibles. He printed hymnbooks. He financed missionaries to go across the earth. That’s the way to use your money. You think of the reward. Why, in God’s name, do you think it says don’t lay up treasure on earth? Lay up treasure in heaven.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


I broke my arm yesterday. It's painful, but to be honest I thought it would hurt more than it did. Maybe I'm just extraordinarily tough. It's my first proper break (apart from 2 or 3 toes) and it came at a time when I was just beginning to think I was related to David Dunn (Bruce Willis) from the film Unbreakable.

Now this could be just hugely inconvenient or it could be a chance to learn and grow big time. I've no idea how long I'll be out of action, but I'm seeing a bone specialist on Monday so please pray that they give me a good prognosis.

In terms of having two sons under 18 months old, one of those being newborn, my wife was not over the moon to hear the news.

As a musician this is a hammer blow. All of my work-life revolves around my musical ability and a dodgy arm/wrist is not going to help.

I'm sure that it's not the wisest idea to go around the prisons I work in in a plaster cast either.

What's very frustrating is that I've been in a fairly rich period of songwriting and have been inspired for our church's upcoming series on humility and for a sermon series in Acts that starts in the Autumn. I've finished 3 songs that I'm excited about using congregationally in the past 2 weeks!

I'm also hoping to record an Ephesians based album before the end of the Summer which I hope won't be set back by this – I'll be posting more details on what that entails shortly and how you might be able to help.

There are all sorts of ways that this could hinder me...


According to Romans 8:28 God can work this to my benefit because I love Him and I'm called according to His purposes. Maybe this is a time that God has given me to focus on something different. Maybe I need to check that my heart is correctly aligned and moving Godwards and not idolwards.

I've certainly not been reading enough recently so I'll be looking forward to doing more of that.

You know what, I'm quite looking forward to pursuing God with little or no musical agenda.

I think this is going to be a good few weeks.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Are You Listening?

During my time running music workshops in prison I've come across some extraordinarily talented men. If you get locked up with a guitar for most of the day for a few years I think you could expect to get quite good.

I've also come across guys who have the potential to become extremely talented but whose attitudes are starting to stifle / have stifled their gifting slightly.

I've also seen those who probably will never be musically brilliant but seem to think that their drumming ability is in the same league as John Bonham or that they can nail guitar solos like Jimi Hendrix.

The first kind generally have the following in common: They lap up correction and advice. They watch like hawks for different and new techniques. They are self-correcting. They listen to themselves and are always picking out flaws, never really satisfied. The sky is the limit with this type of musician.

The second kind have the following in common: They don't listen all the time. They interrupt. They don't think they need to heed the whole advice and correction. They often start attempting to play something before you've finished playing it to them. They listen to themselves and are generally happy with how they're playing and content to leave things as they are. Above average. They can slip backwards towards the third kind.

The third kind have the following in common: They listened at first. They had to in order to get playing. Somewhere along the road they decided that they knew best. They don't listen anymore. Not to others, not to themselves. Any correction is seen as an attack on their character. They play the same stuff over and over again, overconfidently and sloppily. These guys drive everyone else in the room with them MAD. They get kicked out of the band.

As a guy who falls into the 2nd category (and slipping back into the 3rd category) said to me as I tried to teach him a part after 3 or 4 failed attempts to play a song correctly (alongside a cocky unwillingness to play without chords in front of him), 

“Don't worry, I'll pick it up. I play by ear, I do.”

Me - “mmm, kind of...”

Are you still listening?

Shut up and listen.

Friday, 20 May 2011


My iPhone is amazing. Or is it?

I've just reached the end of a 2 year contract (that's the only way I could afford it – which says something about my attitude when I got it), and I'm glad to say I won't be upgrading to an iPhone 4 or any other smart phone for that matter. I've gone back to basics. I got a Nokia on O2 Simplicity. It's vastly cheaper and I've opted against having any data bolt-ons so I can't download anything – no games, no apps, no emails. Nothing. Just simple phone, camera, text.

It feels great.

A recent BBC article talked about Apple and other superbrands provoking reactions in the same areas of the brain as religious imagery does for those of faith. It would appear that Apple have led a lot of us in worship, and for me it's time to repent of naively following and to prise myself from the clutches of the Mac Monster.

After all, the joy that possessing a piece of Apple hardware brings is nothing compared to the joy of spending time with our Maker and Sustainer. It's nothing but a very cheap, albeit monetarily expensive, imitation.

When I bought into the contract I bought into the lie that my life would become more interesting, happier and easier. I might look sharp on the outside with my beautiful accessory, but on the inside it's blunted me. For all the extra information and knowledge at my fingertips, I feel like I know less – I certainly don't know God as well as I used to. It's far too easy to spend that spare 10 minutes playing Angry Birds or looking for apps that will 'improve' my life rather than praying – and if I was more keen to play than pray, surely that means I loved my iPhone more than I love Jesus! (Makes you feel sick doesn't it?) Too easy to be more consumed with a piece of plastic, glass and metal, than to talk with the flesh and bone people made in the image of God who are in the same room as you. (Apologies to you if I was ever so rude as to appear to be more interested in my iPhone than in you – how utterly ludicrous).

I think I realised in the last 5-6 months of my contract that so much of Apple is about the visual. It's so much about image. It does look pretty cool to put an iPhone down next to your MacBook. But to me, it seemed that the more time I spent with it, the less it offered in reality. Much like a golden calf, giving the appearance of value on the outside, but inanimate, dead and lifeless. Your iPhone isn't going to save you. It could kill you though.

I'm sure if Moses had come down from Mount Sinai and found me with my iPhone he would have gone berserk.

Some of you might disagree with me completely. You might feel that a smart phone has changed your life for the better, and you might have more self-control than I do. Remember though, it is only a cheap, earthly imitation of how God can change your life eternally. Don't let it blunt you like it did me. And whatever you do, don't let an inanimate Apple lead you in worship. Give yourself to the living God.

I'm not really into conspiracy theories, but what's even more terrifying is the logo. Fruit with a chunk missing. Promising the consumer knowledge. Familiar? ;o)