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.