What Leaders Can Learn from NASCAR

Coaches carefully instruct athletes on how to pace themselves.

Long distance runners have to judge exactly how far they can push their bodies while still keeping a reserve for the final sprint.  Bicyclers in the Tour de France have to hold just enough in reserve to explode into the lead at the right moment.

A different sort of pacing is learning to draft.  No, not beer.  Cars.  NASCAR.  Being able to patiently cruise on someone else’s bumper until just the right moment requires skill and finesse.

Leaders can learn how to draft from NASCAR.

Athletes and NASCAR drivers are highly skilled in pacing themselves, but leaders are not.  In fact, many leaders actively fight against you when you try to pace yourself.

“Hey, Jim, thanks for taking the call on your day off.  Look, I really need that document for my meeting in 10 minutes; can you email it to me?  Oh, yeah, and . . . and . . .”  Pastors and, admit it, you and I have all done this at some point.  Some of us still do it.  A lot.  In the name of ministry.  In the name of “winning another soul to Christ.”

The last time I checked Jesus let Martha sit at his feet, and he commended her for it.  The last time I checked Jesus waited in Jerusalem until there was no doubt that Lazarus was dead and gone before leaving to visit Mary and Martha.  He was never in a hurry, even in seemingly life-and-death situations.

You only have one body, one life, and one family; treat them well.  Pace yourself.

If you are having a hard time knowing how to pace yourself, here are a few points to consider.  These four things help me to clear my mind of distractions so that I can recognize when to sprint and when to just draft.  None of these are original with me.

  1. Review your priorities.  Know what is most important: God, you, your family, your job, ministry, in that order.  Set your face towards God, then make certain you are staying healthy.  Your family deserves your attention next, now that you are refreshed and have something to give them.  Your job is critical because it has to do with providing for your family.  Finally you can think about ministry.
  2. Draw firm boundaries.  What days do you have off?  How many hours are you going to work per week?  If you regularly work over 60 hours you need to reconsider your work schedule.  Be clear about those two areas with your leaders and let them know you are not available in your off-work times.  Period.  Communicate immediately when these boundaries are crossed.  If someone consistently pushes you past your boundaries, it is time to communicate more clearly or to ask God for a new job.
  3. Practice patience.  Review my blog from last week, A Leader’s Most Important Trait, to understand the role patience needs to play in our lives.  99% of life is not an emergency, yet we push people as if every project has to be done yesterday.  Remember the cliché, “Just because it is your emergency does not make it my emergency?”  It’s true.
  4. Remember it’s just a job.  At the end of the day your family, your relationship with God and your personal health are more important than your job, even if you have a job in ministry.  As Andy Stanley said so well in the book Choosing to Cheat, it is Jesus’ job to take care of the church, not ours.  Our first ministry is to our family.

Pacing yourself in ministry, much like drafting in NASCAR, is hard work, but it is the only way to guard against burnout.  To dig deeper, listen to Michael Hyatt’s podcast, Is Work-Life Balance Really Possible?

How are you going to pace yourself this week?

How to Chart a Song

If you have read my blog at all you will know that I am a proponent of notated charts, not of lyrics and chord charts or just a melody with chords over it.

To understand why I believe in notated charts, read my previous posts:

What Kind of Music Charts Should I Use?
6 Ways Notated Charts Can Strengthen Your Church

For this post I am focusing on how to chart a song you have not written.  Writing a chart for your own song is a different story.

Charting a song by another artist requires certain tools:

  1. A good mp3 or recording.  Carefully choosing the mp3 helps your team and helps you.  Find a recording that is high quality and that has the style you are looking for. I talk about the role of recordings here.
  2. A metronome.  I use Frozen Ape on my iPhone, but a simple adjustable tick-tock will do.
  3. Software.  Gone are the days of longhand.  Get Finale.  I am a huge proponent of this software and have been using it since 1991.  Finale enables you to set templates, play your music back, adjust and edit music quickly, and much more.  The learning curve can be steep, but the work is worth it.  If you are in a church or academic institution you can take advantage of a huge discount.
  4. A basic understanding of music theory.  You do not need to be able to analyze symphonies or understand jazz chord structures.  You simply need to be able to identify a chord when you hear it as I, IV, V, 1st inversion, 2nd inversion, etc.
  5. A good ear attached to a good mind.  Yeah, here’s the rub.  You can’t use the other tools if you do not have this.  You must be able to listen to a recording and distinguish individual parts, and then you have to be able to notate what you hear.  This takes practice, but you can do it!
  6. Patience and humility.  Your first charts will have lots of mistakes.  Expect it, and be ready to graciously say, “Thanks for pointing that out.  I will fix it,” rather than getting defensive because someone pointed out that you are human.  You will get better and more confident as you do this more and more.

Before we jump in to the details, let me show you the end product.  Here are parts of a completed chart (I’m not posting the whole thing due to copyright concerns, which is another issue altogether).

OK, so once you have gotten the tools at hand and figured out how to use them, here are the steps I follow in writing all of my charts.  Ready?

  1. Figure out the tempo marking with your metronome and a word or two to describe the style.  For instance, Rock ballad quarter note = 80.  No wussy things like “Prayerfully” or “Hopefully.”  Always use words that a musician can act on.
  2. Figure out the primary time signature (4/4, 3/4, etc.) and key signature.  Both of these can change throughout the piece, but we will discover that as we go.
  3. Set up a grand staff.  The top one should be Vocal and the bottom one should be Rhythm.  I prefer to use a treble clef on the Vocal staff, but a bass clef on the Rhythm staff because I always begin with the bass.  More on that later.  Enter in all of the data (key and time signature, etc.).  In a program like Finale all of this is created for you at the very beginning in the set-up screen.  You enter in all of the values and it plugs them right in.
  4. Now listen to the recording closely all the way through.  Find any places where the time signature changes and notate that on the appropriate measure.  Often pop songs will add or subtract two beats in a 4/4 song for interest.  There are multiple ways to notate this, but just do what makes sense to you.
  5. Next, do the same for the key signature, notating the changes in the appropriate measure.
  6. Enter section numbers/letters/descriptors.  I give each section a letter and name: “A: INTRO,” “B: VERSE 1,” D: BRIDGE,” and so forth to facilitate learning and rehearsal.
  7. Now you should have a complete layout: Vocal and Rhythm staves, time signatures, key signatures, tempo markings, section markings, and the exact number of measures in the song.  If the song has an extended ending you just need to decide how much of that ending you want to include.
  8. Now listen through the recording and notate the bass line.  By bass line I mean the lowest note of the chord, not the bass part.
  9. Next figure out the chords over each bass note and enter them accordingly.
  10. Once the bass line and chords are entered, in Finale you can use the Clef tool and convert the Rhythm staff to the proper styles.  I use slash notation for straightforward, non-syncopated parts; rhythmic notation for parts that are syncopated or require rhythmic precision; and regular notation where I need for a musician to play exact notes.  I also occasionally notate the basic drum pattern at the beginning of a section.
  11. Now notate the melody in the Vocal staff.  If the melody varies from verse to verse, I generally (not always) make a decision to keep the verses identical in deference to the congregation, who needs to learn the song quickly.
  12. Enter lyrics.
  13. By this time you probably have listened to the song a dozen times.  Write in directions you want to give the team at certain points to help them.  Under the Rhythm staff I write in notes such as “fill,” E Gtr solo (electric guitar solo), “piano only,” “pads,” “kick on 2 & 4,” and so forth.  On the Vocal staff I write directions such as “unison 1st x,” “harmony 2nd verse,” and so forth.  These directions can save you tons of rehearsal time.
  14. Finally write the form of the piece in the upper left hand corner of the first page so that the band always has a cheat sheet to the structure.
  15. Now decide if you are going to sing the song in the key of the recording or change it.  A good rule of thumb is that the melody should go no higher than a “D” and no lower than a “D.”  A lot of melodies are rang-ey and break these rules, but the meat and potatoes of the song should be in this range so that the congregation can sing it easily.
  16. As you do the final layout of the music on the page, format the chart so that you have lots of white space, reduce the size of the music to 90%, and try to keep the music on two pages.  In Finale you can print individual Rhythm and Vocal charts.
  17. Print out the charts and read them as you listen to the song to find errors.  Fix them.  Be professional.  No colliding lyrics, lyrics covering chords, repeat signs covering the system above, and so forth.  Every detail can help you save time in rehearsal by giving you clarity.  If you do not have clarity you will waste time fixing it.
  18. Get the charts to your band and go for it.

This is a lot of information on how to chart a song, and there are a lot of subtleties I have not mentioned, but this is my basic process.  I have been developing this process for about 12 years now and I can pump out a basic tune in an hour or two.  At the end of that time period I know the song like the back of my hand and am ready to walk into a rehearsal and work with the band.

I am considering creating some Finale tutorials, so let me know if this has been helpful to you.

A Leader’s Most Important Trait

Ambition? Energy? Vision? Critical thinking? Marketing sense?

  • Without ambition you will fail.
  • Without energy you will be uninspiring.
  • Without vision you will have no focus.
  • Without critical thinking you will make bad decisions.
  • Without marketing sense (even for pastors) you will misunderstand what the public really wants.

But none of these is most important.

I believe that a leader’s most important trait is . . .


Yep, that’s it. Patience.

  • Without patience your ambition will burn your family, your employees, your volunteers, and every business connection have.
  • Without patience your energy will override your common sense.
  • Without patience your vision will have unrealistic deadlines.
  • Without patience your critical thinking will kill growing talent when they make mistakes.
  • Without patience your vision will blindly follow culture.

1 Corinthians 13:4 says “Love is patient, love is kind . . .” Patience is first on the list. I believe God put it there because he knew that if we are not patient we will miss him every time.

God is never in a hurry. We are. We think that if we do not implement a new strategy now we will fail. We think that if we do not get our presentation skills perfect right now someone will not decide to follow Christ, our presentation will fail, our business will die tomorrow.

These are lies.

And I (like you) have believed them way too often.

Patience helps us remember our priorities in the midst of critical decisions.

Patience helps us to hear God when life is in the balance.

Patience reminds us that people are most important; not our ego, job, action list, bank account, or church attendance numbers.

Love is patient . . .

Where do you need to exhibit patience today?

Why I Love To Write

True confessions. I have not missed a publishing date in months, and I was not happy about not getting a post out yesterday. My personal goal is to publish every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and I don’t like being inconsistent.

Writing consistently helps me to stay fresh, to think well.

Sometimes I just think better on (virtual) paper.

Ever feel like that?

Writing for you makes me think about others.

Writing regularly forces me to stretch.

I need wrap my mind around issues and ideas rather than just tacitly believing things without truly testing my thoughts. If I have to write action points for someone else, I have to make certain what I am writing makes sense.

So thank you for making me a better writer and thinker, and for helping to stay others-focused.

I love you for it.

What does writing do for you?

The Best Way to Kill a Creative Genius

Tell him there is “nothing new under the sun,” as Solomon says.

If you grew up in church you may have heard this phrase quoted many times like it is the words of Christ. It’s not.

In fact, Solomon was quite possibly depressed when he wrote it. When was the last time you allowed a depressed person guide your life?

This quote got to me throughout my life until recently. I grew up in church and I believe the Bible to be God’s Word, so everything in it must be something to live by, right?

Wrong. Some things are simply true accounts of what happened for us to learn from. This quote from Solomon is a case in point.

The quote comes from Ecclesiastes, where Solomon struggles to find the meaning of life. He finds it 12 chapters after this quote.

Last fall, at Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit, one of the speakers spoke at length about all of the things since Solomon that HAVE been new.

Like the resurrection.
Like Jesus walking on water.
Like computers.
Like the fact that I am writing this post on an iPhone.

After a bit it begins to sound ridiculous that I ever took this quote to heart as anything more than a true description of a soul struggling through dark days.

I’ve been there, and it sure feels like nothing special is going on when I’m there.

But there are special things going on.

Like the book you are writing.
Like the new song you are writing for your church.
Like the new backgrounds you are creating for the new series at your church.

Like your life. It’s never been lived before, and you get to bring it to life.

There is something new under the sun, so don’t let the depressed and negative people in your life distract you. In fact, don’t let them in your life at all. They’re not worth it.

Go do something new just to spite them.

Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it, Solomon.

What new thing are you going to do today?

Project Management for Worship Ministry Leaders

The senior pastor pulls you aside and says, “We need to develop a plan for the future of the worship center of the church.”  Cool.

Except you have absolutely no idea what to do next.  The course in college or the worship conference seminar that prepared you for this task was . . . . none.

Does that mean you go out and hire a sound design consultant?  Should you hire an architect to give you some ideas?  Should you go sit in the auditorium and pray until a vision comes to you?  Is this your opportunity to eradicate the ghastly lavender paint behind the platform?

The answer is possibly “Yes” to all of these, but how you go about the process is super critical to the success of the project, your church’s health, your personal health, and the likelihood of you keeping your job!

Don’t worry.  I have been in the same place before.  Before you go out and stake your reputation on an idea (yes, I have done that – not a good idea), here are some things to consider.

1.  Pray for guidance.  Consult the Divine Project Manager, the Ultimate Creative who designed the entire world with a thought.

2.  Project Management is simply managing a temporary project (auditorium redesign, sound system overhaul, office redesign, etc.).  While this is a specific science, the principles are straightforward.

3.  Ask for help.  When I faced a similar decision God showed me a business individual in my church who actually trained project managers in the area.  He was an immense help.  Don’t be too proud to ask a business person for help.

4.  You need a plan.  Church leaders will want to pull something together and go for it, but your job is to cool their heels and help them to consider every decision carefully.  To do this you will need a clear plan.  Don’t wing it!

5.  Create a team.  On this team you will want to have experts from each key discipline necessary for the completion and success of the task.  In my case I needed creative minds, interior designers, construction experts, technical geeks, and others.

6.  Identify the stakeholders.  There are specific people in your church who have to approve something before it happens.  Some are obvious (the senior pastor, the finance team, the elder board chair), and some are not so obvious (the kitchen lady who has been there for 40 years, the anonymous millionaire who paid for the building you want to blow up/remodel to fit a style of worship he does not like).  Write these people down and don’t guess; know!

7.  Write a contract and make all of the stakeholders and team members sign it.  This may seem like lawyer paranoia, but, trust me, you will be glad you did this later.  The team members and stakeholders will push back on every restraint you put on a project and you need to be able to point to a document that has all of the guidelines in it: a document they signed.

8.  Understand the “Triple Constraint.”  Originally just three areas (Time-Scope-Cost), the “Triple Constraint” has now evolved into six areas:

  • Schedule – how fast the project needs to be completed
  • Resources – what physical materials and people skills you have on hand
  • Budget – how much money you want to spend
  • Quality – how good a job you want to do
  • Scope – how broad the project reaches (just one room or an entire building, etc.)
  • Risk – the balance between likelihood of success and the chance of failure

Every project is defined by answers to these six areas.  For instance, if you suddenly decide to rush the Schedule for the project, the Quality of project is going to drop.  If you want to rush the Schedule AND keep Quality high, you will have to boost the Budget.  If you end up boosting the Budget you stand greater risk of rejection of the plan by stakeholders.

When I was a leader at a previous church and helping to lead a major design discussion, some leaders decided to push the implementation of a particular feature faster than the constraints allowed.  After being warned of the implications of jumping ahead, they went ahead anyways.  Because they rushed the Schedule and did not raise the Budget, Quality dropped dramatically.  The Risk of dissatisfaction among the stakeholders and among the implementors was high, and that Risk became a reality when the project failed to be high quality.

9.  Do not take anything personally!  You have heard me say this more than once, but when you are leading a project every decision will feel like it is personally directed at you.  It isn’t.  Your job is not to be personally involved or even to make any decisions, but to simply hold the leadership and team members accountable for every decision they make.

Project management includes so many more things than these, but these points will give you a running start.

Anyone can lead a project.  You can do this!

Where in your life or job do you need to step back and employ some project management principles?

Two Great Sources for Music You’ve Never Heard

Are you like me?  How many times have you been accused of being stuck in the same style, hooked on the same songs, tied to that one band?  “All he plays in Tomlin songs!”  “Hillsong United is not the second coming of the Messiah.  Don’t they ever play music by any other bands?”  “I can’t stand that Lincoln Brewster bubblegum rock music.”  “Do we HAVE to play Shout to the Lord again?”  “Ugh, it’s another one of his original songs.  I definitely don’t know what is original about them.”  And on . . and on . . and on.

I want to share some great resources with you, but before I do that you have to decide several things.  Without these decisions my suggestions will be useless to you.

You will never satisfy everyone, so give up.  You (and everyone who has to deal/live/work with you) will be much happier.  Those few malcontents will continue to spew poisonous comments in the guise of “helping” you.  Cull what instructive notes you can from their comments and then carefully dispose the rest in your hazardous waste containers under the church stage.  (You do have those, don’t you?)

Objectively take stock of your repertoire.  You may need help from a trusted friend who is in your corner for this.  Find the weaknesses and strengths in your list.  “We have lots of songs about the greatness of God, but we have absolutely nothing reflecting on communion.”  “We have 95 thrash rock songs and 1 ballad.  Maybe we should introduce some slower songs.”

Whittle down your repertoire.  300 songs is too much.  Period.  Even if you use a hymnal you should not be trying to use all 600 hymns in a given year.  Keep the songs which you think will best help the church move forward, then remove the others to make room for newer songs.

Identify one type of song to add to your repertoire.  Baby steps.  Do not get overwhelmed with the options.  Just decide to add one or two ballads, one or two intimate worship songs, whatever.

Don’t yell at the “helpful” people in your congregation.  You need to quit drinking hat-er-ade.  Thank them for sharing their thoughts with you and tell them you will think and pray over their ideas.  Then think and pray over them!

OK, so once you have made it through those stages you will be ready to look for new music.  Here are two sources I am currently finding useful for keeping my ears fresh.

Pandora.  This is a “duh” moment for some of you, since you are probably already using this great tool.  Enter in a song like ones you need to find and see what Pandora comes up with.  Do the same with artists and styles.  I just got back to using Pandora, and I am loving it.

NPR’s All Songs Considered Podcast.  I just discovered this resource and I loved the first podcast I listened to with snippets of Norah Jones’ upcoming album and Sigur Ros’s new music, along with a crazy wide collection of other styles.

No, these are not necessarily Christian sources.  You will not go to hell for listening to secular music.  You have sung Happy Birthday a million times; it is a secular song and you are apparently still a Christian.

All snarkiness aside, the point is that you need to stretch your ears constantly if you want to keep from getting stuck in a rut.  Do it, and you can tell all of the nay-say-ers that you are actively pursuing new music.  That response is probably better than telling them to put a cork in it.

What resources do you use to refresh your ears and your repertoire?