Two Things in 2018

With an exhausting but productive 2017 behind us, I’m pretty excited for some of the things that 2018 might hold. The last quarter of 2017 brought major life change for both Jennifer and I, with both of us starting new part time jobs as well as moving. It revealed a lot of our misplaced priorities so I’m grateful for the growth that the stress brought about. 

I’ve spent the last few weeks really thinking about what I wanted 2018 to look like for myself and our family. I know its cliche and almost everyone fails, but I always want to get some resolutions down into words and attempt growth every year. 

So this year I wanted to simplify my goals and focus on some keystone habits and skills that I’m hoping will make other smaller goals easier. For the sake of simplicity and increase the chance of success, I cut it down to just two things I want to start doing and two things I want to stop doing. 

Two Things I Want to Start Doing

Deliberate Practice

The past few years as I’ve transitioned from guitar to keys as my primary instrument when playing live, my playing has steadily improved, but lately I’ve been feeling like my playing has been ‘just good enough.’ I’ve been learning parts to what I need for each worship service or gig, but I haven’t felt like I’ve grown beyond that. Since I learned piano by playing by ear, I haven’t really tried to build a solid technical foundation through scales, deliberately playing pieces outside of my comfort zone, and developing the skills to read music for piano at a useable level. I think back to when I was playing clarinet in the top band in my high school and I was able to sightread almost anything nearly flawlessly and I miss being at that high technical and expressive level on an instrument. I'm hoping as I push myself in my piano playing, it will give me new energy to push myself even further in all creative endeavors.

Go Analog After 9 PM

When I was thinking about this second habit I wanted to cultivate, I had a lot of options. Make sure I exercise everyday, read my bible every morning, start working earlier, wake up before my kids do so they don’t destroy the house, etc. But everything came back to waking up at around 5 am, which felt impossible to do everyday. But my difficulty with waking up at such an early hour on a regular basis had its roots in staying up until 11 o clock, and not truly falling asleep until around 11:30-midnight. So I figured I’d start at the source of the problem. Smartphones are notoriously terrible to use at night. The blue light from the screen suppresses melatonin production and reading about everything that is terrible on Twitter right before you attempt to fall asleep is probably not the best for a good, solid night’s sleep. Once the kids are fully in bed, there is no real reason I can’t disconnect, finish up chores, and sit down with a real book (or my Kindle with the backlight off) until I doze off. By attacking this habit from a positive angle by essentially giving myself permission to read for an hour or more every night, this is one I’m really looking forward to.

Two Things I Want to Stop Doing

Procrastinating on the Mundane

There is nothing worse than hitting next week on Todoist over and over and over on something as basic as mail IRA transfer form. As our life gets more complicated with mortgages, multiple jobs, and kids in public school, I’ve found myself putting off the mundane things that need doing until the very last second. I’ve always justified it to myself by saying that there are more important things on my plate and I’ll get to it when I have to, but the eventual stress (or missing of deadlines) is never worth it. This is the year I want to stop throwing all my opened mail into a pile and say “I’ll let future Andy figure that out a day before a deadline.”

Wasting Time on Unfocused Learning

I read Wikipedia. A lot. I’m a naturally curious person, so Wikipedia has slowly become a time waster for me over the years. Add in countless blogs and I spend too many hours every week reading surface level content for countless subjects (many that have no bearing on my life, they are just interesting). While there isn’t anything inherently wrong with learning about random things, its not a wise use of my time. For example, I spent about 8 hours last year reading a book on eugenics in the early 20th century and while it was a fascinating read, those are essentially 8 hours wasted when I look back on it. This year I want to cut back on the fluff knowledge and take more time honing in on a few subjects that interest me and dig deeper in those areas. I’m not sure what that will look like this year, but I’m trying to keep it in mind as I go about my internet use and book selections. I recently started using the app Pocket to focus my blog reading and its helped that aspect immensely.

I'm excited about tackling these goals and the domino effect that this will have on other areas of my life. If you have any ideas for apps or other tools you think would help with these goals, let me know in the comments!

Andy WalkerComment
Favorite Things - 2017

2017 has been a fun and eventful year.  The more I think about it, between it being my first full year of self-employment, moving to a new house, Jennifer going on her first mission trip, releasing my first full-length The Alphabet Zero record, starting a part-time staff position at my church, and my oldest daughter starting kindergarten, this may have been the busiest year of my life (so far). I think it’s time for some egg nog and a nap.

I’ve spent the year making a lot of changes and trying to slow down and pay attention more. So I thought I would jot down a few of my favorite things from the year. These aren’t things that necessarily came out this year, since I’m kinda slow on the uptake for some pop culture things, but things in general that helped define my 2017.

Favorite Moment - Baptizing Jennifer
Runner-up - Going to California to celebrate my best friends wedding.

Favorite Movie - Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Runner up - Wonder Woman

TV Show - Twin Peaks (Original)
Runner Up - Stranger Things

Favorite Album - Julien Baker - Turn Out the Lights
Runner Up - The xx - I See You

Spotify Playlist of all my favorite albums of 2017

Favorite Fiction - Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Runner Up - Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Favorite Non-Fiction - Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Runner Up - Evicted: Poverty & Profit in the Modern City by Matthew Desmond

My Goodreads list for 2017

Andy WalkerComment
Heart, Soul, and Mind

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says the greatest commandment is that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus left no aspect of ourselves untouched. Our love of God and therefore our response to that love through worship requires all of ourselves.

As worship leaders, whether we are singing, playing drums, or running lights, we must lead our congregation to faithfully sing with all their heart, soul, and mind. But as many of us know, especially those from the more traditional backgrounds, elements introduced in worship to engage our congregations’ hearts are often met with skepticism at best or accusations of emotional manipulation at worst. How do we then lead our congregation to live out what Jesus commands in Matthew 22:37? 

Jonathan Edwards said God wants “to stir up the pure minds of the saints and quicken their affections, bringing the great things of religion to their remembrance and setting before them in proper colors.” Our emotional responses to the truths of God give those truths sticking power in our lives. The words that we sing, in the proper emotional context, take on a new weight in our lives.

When I think back to the most formative moments in my life, deep and intense emotions are always at the center of those memories. Why should we then not aim to create intensely emotional experiences to give the Gospel the emotional weight it deserves? To quote Zac Hicks from his fantastic book ‘The Worship Pastor,’  “I can acknowledge conceptually that my sin offends God and violates our covenant relationship, but my understanding is more complete when tears are streaming down my face and my heart is aching in contrition.” 

How we present the Gospel through worship communicates its weight and power, so we must be intentional in all that we do. If we are devoid of emotion, we communicate that the Gospel has no power to stir our affections. But if we express joy, we lead people to feel that the Gospel is good. If we express wonder, we lead people to feel that God is awe-inspiring and beautiful. We don’t want to haphazardly manipulate emotion for the sake of a response. Rather, we should act as an emotional shepherd (see note), leading the congregation’s hearts to the place where the Spirit can work in a life-changing way. 

How we execute our service to put the truths of the Gospel “in their proper colors” will look different depending on the context of the service. I want to highlight three principles you can apply to any context.

Create Space

Louie Giglio spoke at the Lift conference about writing the new simple chorus for Take My Life with Chris Tomlin. As a kid he sang these wonderful hymns at a breakneck speed, with almost no space between the verses. He recalled singing words that had huge weight behind them, and immediately jumping into another verse, with no time to reflect on what he just sang.

We need to not fear creating space in our songs for reflection, but be very intentional about how we use that space. When used properly, the instrumental section of songs can be a powerful moment for the congregation to reflect on truths they have sung.

Create a Narrative

Most musicians who spend any time on Youtube have seen the ad for the Hans Zimmer Masterclass where he states that “Music is basically a conversation,” and then plays a question/response motif on the piano. Every element in a service tells part of a story, whether it’s a perfectly timed lighting cue, the bass coming in to accent a particular lyric, or a guitar lick that adds a new dimension to the lyric.

We must be intentional to weave an emotional story around the words we sing. Even subtle elements, when taken together as a whole, can work together to impress the truths of what we sing on the congregation’s hearts.

One of my favorite examples of this is the Bethel song Lion and the Lamb. The song opens with a call and response instrumental with a celebratory motif at the end of each ascending guitar line. This leads directly into the line “He’s coming on the clouds, kings and kingdoms will bow down” in the first verse and “Open up the gate, make way before the King of Kings.” These joyful and expectant lines are given even greater emotional impact by the instrumental preceding it that speak a similar musical story.

Express an Appropriate Posture

We cannot expect our congregation to express proper emotions if we aren’t expressing them ourselves. If you look bored on stage, you communicate that what we are singing has no relevance to your life. If you are singing joyfully with hands raised or prayerfully singing with eyes closed during various parts of the songs, you are communicating the proper posture we are to have during the different points of each song.

Because we are created in the image of our triune, relational God, we are wired to live in relation to one another. So even if you are running lights, you can worship loudly with hands raised when possible, and this can in turn lead those on stage in worship! Each of us is leading someone in worship, so we must never think we are “just the drummer” or “just the sound guy!”

Music has the unique power to convey the entire breadth of human emotion. Worship is a place where the grand and beautiful narrative of the Gospel is expressed each week. We must never take this for granted. So as we prepare for worship each week, we must think about how everything we do expresses the proper emotions to put the truths we sing in their proper colors. We have been given a task of eternal importance, to help our congregation live out the greatest commandment. 

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind.”

Note: The idea for this blog came from Zac Hicks book ‘The Worship Pastor,’ specifically the chapter ‘The Worship Pastor as Emotional Shepherd.’ I highly recommend this book, not only for worship staff, but worship volunteers as well.

Andy WalkerworshipComment