What Inspires a Worship Leader
This month I am excited to have my friend, Allison Lynn, as guest on Inspired Songwriting.
She is going to give us some insight into what inspires her in her position as worship leader.
My husband, Gerald Flemming, and I work in full-time music ministry with our duo, Infinitely More. Based in Toronto, Ontario, we visit churches of all denominations across the country to lead worship, perform concerts, and teach workshops on songwriting and worship leading. We’re also on staff as Worship Leaders at St. John’s York Mills Church.
In your position of worship leader, what are your duties and responsibilities?
Well, as any worship leader will tell you, our job description is vast and varied! At our home church, we plan worship with our pastor, choose the music, create arrangements, organize the band, lead rehearsals, write songs, and lead the music in worship. We also strive to build community and create a level of pastoral care for our musicians. We want great Christian friendships within our band - we hang out together, share meals, get to know each other, and then when one of us is hurting, we can step up for each other in a meaningful way.
When we visit other churches, our duties shift a bit. We’re often called in to introduce contemporary praise music to traditional churches. We feel uniquely called to this kind of ministry, which usually involves meeting people within their comfort zone, and then gently and lovingly stretching that zone out a bit. We also aim to build up and educate their musicians by working with them directly through workshops, rehearsing, and ultimately leading worship together.
One of your responsibilities is deciding on the music that will be used by the people. Do you listen to a lot of music and music sources when looking and deciding on which to use for a service?
Yes! Gerald and I are constantly listening to music through a variety of online sources. We also love asking other musicians and worship leaders, “What are you listening to these days? What does your congregation love to sing?” You can find great songs that way!
When listening to songs is there something that "inspires" you to choose one song over another? What?
There are lots of factors that Gerald and I look for in worship songs, and a lot of prayer involved in how we choose music, but it ultimately comes down to this: “Does this song make us want to worship?” A few years ago, we were attending the Break Forth worship conference in Edmonton, Alberta. I was in a worship session one morning when I heard Paul Baloche introduce his new song, “The Same Love.” I was floored by the moving of the Holy Spirit as I sang the powerful lyric. When Gerald and I met up for lunch, he told me about the songwriting session he’d attended that morning. “Paul played a song for us called ‘The Same Love’. We need to bring it to our congregation!” When that song hit us both so strongly, we knew there had to be something special about it. It’s since become a favourite worship song for our congregation.
To change the subject a little, do you also write songs? What "inspires” you in your writing? Is it the same as when you are looking for songs to lead the people?
Gerald and I both write songs, and in very different ways. Gerald is a born writer. He’s written plays, screenplays, short stories, prose, and hundreds of songs. He’s got lots of natural talent with an unnatural discipline - up at 6am every morning, sitting in front of his laptop with his Bible, MasterWriter, and espresso. The hard work is paying off - this spring, Gerald was nominated for two Word Awards, a national award sponsored by The Word Guild of Canada! We’re looking forward to attending the gala awards night in June.
My writing is much more sporadic. Ironically, I’ve written a lot of songs while stuck in traffic (if you ever drive in Toronto, you’ll know that’s a fair amount of time!) We’re starting to write more songs together, which, as a married couple, is both wonderful and challenging!
We both seek inspiration in lots of different places. Sermons are a definitely a favourite, but also scripture, testimonies, other songs, and even just everyday conversations. Because we have a dual ministry as both Christian artists and as worship leaders, we allow the songs to shape into their own purpose. Some of them are “Infinitely More” songs, and others become songs for corporate worship.
Do you have any advice, as a worship leader for songwriters out there, that might encourage and enlighten them?
I think the best advice I have is to spend time with God. Not you, God, your iPad, and a million distractions, but just you and God. Read some scripture, lift a prayer, enjoy creation, and just listen. There’s something about that kind of time that feeds everything. A song may come to you then, or it may provide the stillness you need later in the day to hear a hook or discover a song idea in an unexpected place.
Gerald’s constant advice is always one word: rewrite. There’s an old story about Gospel music legend J.D. Sumner of the Stamps Quartet. Young writers were always giving him songs for the group. J.D. would sometimes try to give feedback, but the young writers would respond with “I can’t change a thing. God gave me that song.” In his deep, Southern drawl, J.D. would respond, “Son, God’s a better writer than that.” Cheeky, but he made a good point. God will graciously give us inspiration for a hook, a verse, maybe even a whole song, but He invites us to share in the creative process through the rewrites. They are challenging, but they contain a joy and satisfaction all their own.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
In June, I’m starting a Worship Wednesdays series on my blog. We’ll have weekly articles about leading worship and songwriting from me, Gerald, and pastors and musicians we love and respect. Also, for any Canadian readers of Inspired Songwriting, we’d love to come and minister at your church! You can find all the details at www.InfinitelyMore.ca
Thank you, Allison.