Are you looking for insights into how to keep your faith growing and your creativity stoked? Do you wonder how to maintain the heart of a worshiper while maintaining the mind of a thoughtful worship leader?
I’ve decided to start interviewing worship leader friends who have been faithfully leading congregations for ten years or longer to answer some of these questions.
This week I’m talking with West Breedlove. West is the worship director for Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, TN. The church has around 3500 in worship weekly. West and I served a church together while in seminary at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.
Q: West, how do you personally prepare for worship?
A: For me it’s important to maintain a steady diet of scripture and prayer. I use Professor Horner’s bible reading system for daily devotions. I also think it’ important to live a lifestyle of repentance. In my case, I find myself needing to repent particularly of a fear of man. Like in most churches, I guess, there are people in my church who intimidate me. When I’m planning worship, I think (in an unhealthy, man-pleasing way) “I wonder what ‘Mr. Smith’ will think of this song done in this way.” I have to repent and ask God to not only deliver me from this fear of man, but also to miraculously exchange it with his own divine love for that person or group.
My pastor and I also spend time in regular prayer—not just dutiful prayer, but beseeching prayer, knowing that unless God meets us our worship will be in vain. Prayer must be habitual.
Q: How do you prepare your congregation for worship?
A: I’d say mostly by example. My pastor sets the tone excellently. He welcomes everyone, then sits down and prays while the organ plays the prelude. I find the prelude music makes a big difference. We are committed to using soft, reflective, contemplative music to give people a chance to quiet their hearts and minds in preparation for worship. This reflects our theology of worship, that we are approaching and meeting a holy God.
There are a few intentional things I do. I always make sure to prepare my corporate prayers. Bob Kauflin has been a faithful friend over the years, and i’ve learned from him the importance of preparation, and the pastoral implications it carries. I have found this to be profoundly helpful.
It’s also important for me to maintain a pastoral heart and a humble spirit, depending on the Spirit of God throughout our worship. My buddy Brandon once told me, “Music is part of it, but it’s not the heart of it.” This means being willing to teach the congregation (i.e., what Ebeneezer means) and to pray for the congregation, not just get through a song. As one pastor told me recently, “Musicians are a dime a dozen. I want a pastor leading us.”
Lastly, I think one of the main parts of the calling of the worship leader is to get rid of distractions in worship. When it comes to music in worship, John Piper calls for “undistracting excellence.” I like that idea and pursue it. Whatever it takes for the gathered church to more easily express their Godward affections is what we’re after. They already have enough distraction from their own mental noise from the week, from family affairs, deaths, economy, the ride to church. They need to meet with God, and I want to get myself and whatever else I can out of the way.
Q: What books have you been reading lately that have had a big impact on you?
A: All Quiet on the Western Front has had a surprising impact on me. Most people in our generation have not lived through an all-consuming war like WWI or WWII. This book takes you to the front lines. I love how it mixes elements of beauty with darkness all through bold poetic story-telling. I definitely recommend it.
Another helpful book in my marriage and for staff relations has been Strengths Finder 2.0. It’s been the most revealing book as it relates to understanding the different ways we’re wired for work.
Of course, Cry of the Soul by Allender and Longman has been working renewed affections for the Lord in my heart as it shows me some great insight into why I get so angry, or feel such shame or fear. It’s a very helpful book.
Q: What are two songs that you’ve recently discovered that have benefitted you and/or your congregation?
I’m slow to introduce new songs, so these aren’t necessarily the most cutting-edge, but they are cutting-edge theologically and they cut to the heart of worshippers.
My favorite is All I Have is Christ from Sovereign Grace.
Bob Kauflin’s version of O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus is really nice, too.
Another is Beautiful Saviour by Stuart Townend. It just doesn’t get old. Of course, I’ve written violin, flute, oboe and harp parts for this and numbers of other songs. So they have a freshness to them. Along those lines, I also have had the organ introduce Indescribable. That’s a cool way of changing things! That pedal tone with the riff played above it really sounds cool on a pipe organ!
Q: I know you write a lot of songs. What have you been writing recently?
A: The last song I wrote was I See the Cross, which was a co-writing project with my buddy Brandon Wells. But I’ve actually been doing a lot more arranging and orchestration writing recently. One of the highlights of working at Cedar Springs is their commitment to see everyone working at peak performance within their gifting. So as part of my professional development they have allowed me to get weekly mentoring from the film composer Alain Mayrand. We meet on Skype and work on whatever arranging project I have for that week. Though I majored in music at university, it’s been very refreshing, and is making me a much more thoughtful, intelligent writer.
Q: If someone wants to check out your music, where should they go?
A: I sometimes post things on my blog.
West is a thoughtful worship leader, who carefully crafts worship services that glorify God and fit his congregational setting. He models a trifecta of worship planning that Prof. John Frame taught me: Worship should be Biblically thoughtful, musically excellent, and spiritually passionate. I know West seeks to bring those elements into every service he plans.
What questions do you have for West?
Add your questions in the comment section below and West or I will answer them.