The Secret to Rapid Improvement

How would you like to accelerate your progress in an area of weakness? My 23-year-old son, Chris and I discussed this a few days ago. He reminded me of how he stretched himself by being in several lead roles in musicals. “I hated that but it was good for me,” he told me. He is a naturally shy creative who can draw, paint, write articles, write and arrange music, write lyrics and produce music. He rapidly advanced as an actor because he did what he didn’t want to do.

Chris confirms what I just listened to on this podcast hosted by Ray Edwards. He interviewed bestselling author and creativity expert Jeff Goins who is releasing a new book about creativity. Jeff researched leading successful artists such as Michaelangelo who was one of the wealthiest artists of his time during a period when artists were considered paid laborers. Goins revealed a key to rapidly growing in your craft – going public with your process, especially when you’re uncomfortable with this.

Goins discovered that Chris Rock, one of my favorite comedians, would test his jokes on audiences before adding the jokes to his show. Chris would show up at a club with a pad of paper and just start telling jokes to see which ones worked. The jokes that didn’t get any laughs didn’t make the cut. By going public with his creative process, Chris was building his fan base and testing his ideas.

Goins shared his own story of playing in a band and how he rapidly improved as a musician by doing several shows a week. My other son, Alex, has been literally leading worship for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week while he has been in India. I’ve been watching him via Facebook live broadcasts. I asked him why is he always on the keyboard. He responded, “Because I’m the band leader.” That’s 15 to 20 hours of leading and working with other singers and musicians.

These worship sessions have been broadcast live over a Facebook page with opportunities for people to instantly comment. This means that every song that’s off key or pitchy can’t be edited. Awkward transitions are live for everyone around the world to see but the heart and spontaneous singing have been amazingly fresh.

Alex told me that he has noticed an amazing improvement in his singing and playing piano because he has been doing this for many hours. If you want to rapidly advance in an area, then do it for hours at a time and go public with your process. I’m trying to do this right now as I go public with my attempt to do more writing.

I spend hours writing headlines, teasers, and curating hundreds of articles a week. Now I need to carve time out to do my own original writing. Look for more writing in days to come as I go public with my own creative process.

What would you like to improve in?

Why Christians Should NOT Boycott the Worship Industry


Bethel Worship Night in Kansas City (Photo Credit: Alex Haywood)

A dear friend of mine shared a blog post on her Facebook timeline encouraging Christians to boycott the worship industry. I was very disturbed by this piece since I have some close friends who earn their income from leading worship. Here’s why Christians should not boycott the worship industry, but support it:

#1 God likes worship. The Old Testament such as Nehemiah is full of scriptures where people were assigned to sing to the Lord. The singers in Nehemiah made their living from worshipping God. My friends who make a living from leading worship have invested thousands of dollars out of their own pocket and hundreds of volunteer hours in training to lead worship. I don’t understand why we will pay top dollar for a doctor or an accountant but we don’t want to recognize or reward a gifted singer or musician who loves God. This is pure idiocy.

#2 The fact that worship is now considered a legitimate industry should be celebrated and not demonized. Worship was not considered a commercially viable musical genre until groups such as Hillsong and Jesus Culture outsold secular pop artists such as Lady Gaga. We should celebrate and support this trend instead of demonizing gifted Christian singers and musicians who have amassed a following with the message of the Gospel. The fact that my 17-year-old son wants to be like Chris Quilala instead of Chris Brown is something I celebrate, not discourage. Maybe God is elevating these young men and women who have a fire burning in their bones for God so our children can have heroes.

#3 Their are weightier issues to arouse our crusading anger then religions preferences that criticize excellent staging and performance. Get upset about the lack of God’s presence in your church or the fact that the widows and orphans aren’t being taken care of in your back yard. Get upset about the disabled who is being ignored or overlooked. Instead of wondering if light shows are from God, channel your anger by praying for an outpouring of the Spirit in the church. If you’re really upset that your worship leader’s message to follow Christ is attracting people, donate money to the poor in the church.

#4 Worship is a beautiful emotional expression of your love, passion and faith in God. Since when is it wrong to be emotional in our worship? I’ve seen people paint their faces, spend hundreds of dollars, get off work to sit in a parking lot for hours, jump up and down and scream for the Kansas City Chiefs. We cry at secular concerts. We raise our hands when our favorite team wins the game. Why would we divorce the very gift of emotions given by God to express ourselves to Him in an act of worship?

Would David’s act of dancing before the Lord be called ’emotionalism?’ Would the woman who poured expensive oil and washed Jesus feet in worship be called ’emotionalism?’ These acts were driven by their emotional expression of love and worship to the King of Kings.

For me, worship is an emotional experience which doesn’t make me weak. I remember the first time I received a bill I couldn’t pay at 18-years-old. My first response was to go the ‘lanai,’ an outdoor patio in Hawaii, sit on the ground and sing to the Lord. I’ll never forget those moments when I sang and worshiped God and peace came upon me like a robe.

We are made in His image which includes all of His emotions. Here are scriptures that refer to God’s emotions:

• Anger – Psalm 7:11; Deuteronomy 9:22; Romans 1:18
• Laughter – Psalm 37:13; Psalm 2:4; Proverbs 1:26
• Compassion – Psalm 135:14; Judges 2:18; Deuteronomy 32:36
• Grief – Genesis 6:6; Psalm 78:40
• Love – 1 John 4:8; John 3:16; Jeremiah 31:3
• Hate – Proverbs 6:16; Psalm 5:5; Psalm 11:5
• Jealousy – Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:14; Joshua 24:19
• Joy – Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41

The bottom line is that the fact worship has emerged as a commercially viable genre is a sign that people want God. My teenage and college age sons love to worship in a stadium with thousands of other kids their age. We should celebrate and support the worship industry.

3 Business Lessons I Learned at a Songwriters Retreat

Jennie Lee Riddle, a Dove-award winning songwriter.

Jennie Lee Riddle is a Dove award-winning songwriter. I recently attended her songwriter’s retreat in Sherman, TX as part of a media team with Highways Ministries. While sitting in a chapel service, God spoke some lessons through her that will change the way I do business. The last thing I expected to gain at a songwriter’s retreat are business practices.

I once thought of a songwriter’s retreat as a kind of fluffy gathering for spacy creatives. But as I met and hung out with some songwriters and musicians, I realized that they are the hardest working creatives. Making a living from crafting hooks and lyrics that people want to hear is an art. Jennie Lee Riddle has made her mark on the music industry as a leader, award-winning songwriter and mentor to young creatives.

Here are some principles I learned from Jennie at this retreat that will change the way I do business and life:

#1 If you see a picture in your mind of what you want to do, draw it or write it down. God speaks in pictures and visions. Don’t be afraid to capture those pictures and words.

#2 Speak your mind if you don’t agree with something. Don’t waste people’s time. Jennie gave this instruction to students participating in a songwriting circles. If you hear something you don’t like, don’t wait until the end of the meeting to say you don’t like it. When you speak up after everybody has already wrestled with the idea, you’ve just wasted everyone’s time.

I’ve sat in meetings where the direction on an idea was obviously wrong. I’ve watched thousands of dollars wasted on an idea that was a loss because I didn’t have the guts to speak up. Speak your mind. Don’t feel obligated to be polite. Don’t waste other people’s time or their money.

#3 Work on what you already know. I’ve had a lot of wannabee writers tell me that they want to write a book or a script and they want my idea on how to get started. Or someone who pitches me a new business idea. My advice isn’t revolutionary. “Just start,” I tell them. Write what you know. Work on what you already know to do.

You don’t need my permission to do what you know you’re suppose to do. If you’re suppose to start that business, then do it. Write that book. Talk to that person who can move your idea forward. Work on what you already know. Use what you already have.

So draw a picture of what you’re envisioning. Speak your mind. And work on what you already know.

Favorite Friday: Win “Onething Live: Shout Your Name” CD

When Have You Done Something Crazy for God?

Would you move across the country, leave your friends and family to go lead worship in the middle of the night? Probably not. When I think of someone who would do that, I think of a super-spiritual giant that has the Bible memorized, spends most of their time worshiping and prayer lives a perfect life. Yet God amazes me when I meet someone who did this but doesn’t think they are super-spiritual and needs God.

Jon Thurlow, me and Jaye Thomas after talking about their latest project at Higher Grounds Coffeehouse.

Jon Thurlow moved from the East Coast in 2004 to become an intern at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City (IHOPKC). He had just graduated from a Christian college with a degree in Sacred Music. His shift was the midnight to 4am shift with long-time worship leader/artist Misty Edwards.

Since that move, Jon has recorded 8 albums and he is working on another. He credits Misty with drawing him out as a vocalist because he always considered himself as a pianist and primarily a musician. “She would ask me to sing lead vocals during our set and I would have idea what I was doing,” says Jon. “But she encouraged me to come out as a singer when I was use to playing the piano.”

Jon Thurlow

Jon Thurlow

Jaye Thomas, another worship leader and artist also moved from North Carolina to join the IHOPKC team after watching them online from his car. “I would literally drive around town looking for wifi and then park for hours to watch the worship from IHOP,” he said. “I was leading worship by night and working as a real estate broker by day. I had no idea what IHOP was about but I was mesmerized that there was something going on 24/7 somewhere in the country. Then someone introduced me to Misty’s album. The music grabbed me first then Jon Thurlow’s song’ Your Word’ just grabbed me and I was like I don’t know who these people are but I have to know them.”

Jaye Thomas

Jaye Thomas

Jaye came for one weekend and end up meeting with Mike Bickle and Misty for 4 hours. Mike said he should move there and he said, “No I’m happy where I am and I’m going to connect with a local house of prayer. And then I ended up moving here 6 months later.” Jaye has recorded 6 albums since that move and he is working on another project with an R&B flavor.

You would think that Jon and Jaye are super-spiritual giants who have the Bible memorized and pray all the time. When I asked them about being super-spiritual, they both laughed. “We’re the last people to be super-spiritual and we still aren’t,” says Jaye. They are both down-to-earth and unassuming with a hunger for God.

Jon and Jaye have contributed to “Onething Live: Shout Your Name” which dropped on June 30th. They broke bread with me at Higher Grounds Coffeehouse last Tuesday to talk about this project that includes other IHOP worship leaders Misty Edwards, Laura Hackett Park, Jonas Park, Justin Rizzo and Ryan Kondo.

The project was recorded last December at Onething, an annual conference that attracted over 20,000 teenagers and young adults from all over the world to Kansas City. The songs focus reflect the 2014 conference theme of “Until the fame of Jesus fills the earth.”


Leilani: Tell me about your first experience at Onething. What was it like?

Jon: Mine was very awkward because I had never been to Onething. I was on the main stage with Misty Edwards at my first Onething and it was awkward and special at the same time in front of people from all over the world. There was 10,000 people in the (Kansas City Municipal) auditorium. There are young adults tracking with this ‘prayer’ thing. There is something to this. The Lord is doing something even though I had no idea what the message was at IHOP and had no idea what was going on.

Jaye: My first Onething was in 2008. Same exact scenario. I had moved here in August and just finished my internship. I was on the main stage with Cory Asbury team. There were probably 15,000 people there. I’m up there singing, and thinking ‘What am I doing here? How did this happen?’T he thing that gripped me that I looked at room of 15,000 people and to see that many young people genuinely worshipping the Lord, fully given to what’s being said and sung. It gripped my heart. Ironically enough I never experienced Onething not on the platform.

Leilani: All these researchers are saying that their is a mass exodus of millenials and young adults out of the church. I’ve been to Onething that last 3 years and I’m surrounded by over 20,000 young adults who come from all over the country to be in this. Why do you think they’re coming here when researchers say they are leaving the church?

Jaye: Inside the church and outside the church we’re seeing a genuine hunger for something authentic that goes beyond a conference setting or a movement that’s lasting and eternal in the heart. People are not drawn to Onething because of us. Twenty years from now, people aren’t going to remember my name. What they are after is a genuine encounter with the Lord. Even outside of the church, millenials are attracted to mysticism. magic and all of the other things that are counterfeit to the truth of the Gospel because they are looking for a genuine authentic encounter with God.

Jon: They are looking for something authentic and real. What are we emphasizing in the church these days? Are we emphasizing the Word of God and the Holy Spirit which are tangible and change our lives? Or are we emphasizing programs? They (young adults and millenials) will not get into fake. Even in Christian music we’re seeing a shift. The emphasis was on a positive message and talking about life from a Christian perspective and I went to all of the Michael W. Smith concerts. When Hillsong, and Delirious starting coming out with worship music something shifted in worship and Christian music. Suddenly all this worship starts to emerge. If you’re looking at the Christian music charts, what you’re seeing at the top is Bethel, Jesus Culture, Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman. It’s worship. It doesn’t replace “singing to Jesus.” When they are singing to the Lord and singing the word of God, something is happening.

Leilani: I like the song “Famous” which is very electronic/synth driven and timely with its message. Did you have a moment in Onething that inspired the song?

Jaye: Kyl Means brought me the music for the song a month before the conference. When I heard the music, the words came to me, “Until the fame of Jesus fills the earth.” I wanted this to be an anthem for this generation. Until the whole earth is singing the same song, we’ll continue to do what we’re doing. It’s Kyle and I both wrote it and it’s an anthem song. I got the lyrics to the song in a dream. My daughter was 2 months old at the time so we weren’t getting a lot of sleep in my house. I had listened to the music over and over again and woke up singing the lyrics.

Leilani: I noticed a gospel flair in ‘For Your Glory.’

Jaye: I heard it on the radio and I was gripped by it and loved it. I sang it and spontaneously added “send the winds of refreshing” as a response to God.

Leilani: I love the title track, “Shout Your Name.” I kept hearing the line, “shout your name over us.” What does that mean?

Jon: There’s passages in the New Testament like John 17, like when the Lord declares His name. It’s talking about the names of God. He is Jehovah Rapha, healer, restorer and redeemer. For the Lord to shout His name over us is God expressing who He is by singing it over us. It’s a line calling for God to touch us. What brought about this song was my wife who has some physical challenges with chronic pain. I was thinking about the ‘healing’ aspect. No one wants to make things right more than you.” He made our bodies and no one cares more about our bodies then us. He wants to make it right. You take things that are wrong and make it right. I remember burying my face in prayer for my wife at the to get healed and the lyrics coming to me.

Leilani: Do you remember any moments when one of the songs were recorded at the last Onething?

Jaye: I do remember during ‘Hymn’ with the Cry. It as a special song that we did during the offering. It was one of my most challenging moments as worship leader at IHOP because we didn’t get to do a sound check and we were having major technical issues. My microphone stopped working and I had to bolt across the stage to get to run to another mike. I wrote it as a meditation to John 1 and I was on Jon Thurlow’s team when I wrote the song. I began to sing John 1 as a hymn because I love hymns. I remember during the performance of the song during the bridge where it says “Jesus made manifest, the song of righteousness, despising the shame, you paid for me you made a way,” we felt the wind of the Spirit, the breath of the Lord. I remember feeling a tangible presence of the Lord that was really sweet and I had no idea that it would end up on the album.

Leilani: One of my friends wanted to ask you, What would be your advice to up-and coming worship leaders trying to make it in the industry? (Jon and Jaye laugh.)

Talent is taught but anointing is cultivated. – Jaye Thomas

Jaye: Well first I would tell your friend that it isn’t about breaking into the music industry or getting a record deal. Talent is taught but anointing is cultivated. I asked God to give me songs that move the heart of men. But I’ve realized that there is a price to pay with troubles and trials. The Lord allows us to remain weak so we stay in a place where we recognize our dependence on Him. I write from that place where I’m totally weak and dependent. He wants to produce a greater dependence on Him.

Mike Bickle defines success as “God loves you and you love God so you’re a success.” I encourage worship leaders to change their direction from singing about God to singing songs to God. Love is a measure of success and people recognize genuine worship and someone who has a relationship with the Lord. When I saw Misty Edwards singing to the Lord, I thought, ‘This lady knows Jesus and I want what she has.’

Jon: When people connect with Jesus, He is touching their hearts. He is meeting them. That’s where you want go as a worship leader.

“Shout Your Name” tracks include the acoustic-driven “So Come” by Misty, the very reflective “I Will Wait” from Ryan Kondo and about hearing God’s voice “in the midst of this noise,” and Laura Hackett Park’s “In The Presence of Angels” and “Lift Up Your Head,” the inspiring song that gave her most recent album (Love Will Have Its Day) its title.

When you do something crazy, like Jon and Jaye did by responding to God’s call on your heart by adjusting everything in your life, God moves. They are passionate about knowing Him and connecting people to God. If Jon and Jaye can do something crazy like move across the country to lead worship in the middle of the night, then we can do something crazy for God too.

What’s a crazy thing you’ve thought of doing but you’re too scared to do it for God? Comment below and you may win a “Onething Live: Shout Your Name” CD.