The Voice of the Church

There are things God is teaching us right now for sure. Some of what we might tend to think the church is have been stripped away. The church is not a building (can’t rent a space right now or use a building if you own one). It’s not an event (not even a YouTube livestream). It’s a community. A fellowship. A familyAs a worship leader, I really miss the worshipful voice of that family!  We’ve been making virtual videos.  Lately we’ve been streaming a worship service out of my garage all live every Sunday, with me and a couple other “masked singers” (well, we take the masks off when we sing). But I’m not really a natural performer — I’m a song leader.  I need to hear the church singing!  [Years ago I only started making YouTube videos in order to share my songs (like this one) with the church for their collective voice.]

We were talking yesterday about this and how much we miss being all together to sing, talking about how recordings from our former services often don’t even capture the voice of the church, and I was reminded of these recordings and thought I would share them again. Back in 2016 some church leaders got together for some meetings, I got to lead them in worship, and I thought I might as well record it. The digital recorder I was using was a new piece of technology to me and I accidentally recorded through its internal microphones in the back of the room instead of the cables that connected it to the sound board. The cool thing is really captured the collective voice of everybody singing, and it became one of my favorite recorded memories –I love listening back to everybody singing.

Here is the original post with the recordings – give it a listen if you’re missing the voice of the church singing like I am! For now I’m trying to learn to sing softer, to quiet my soul, yet to worship deeper. I’ll learn what I can from thim time.  But I can’t wait till we can all be together and sing again.


Came to My Rescue – Swing 8ths

I have written before about how to play swing 16ths. This morning I’ll talk a bit about swing 8ths and share an example. This isn’t just for music nerds, it’s good practice for anyone who plays an instrument to learn how to play different grooves, and a good example of how a different vibe can give a worship song a totally new expression.  My daughter plays ukulele and sings (please stream her album, it’s so fun).  Her natural style is to play swing 8th notes, in many of the songs she writes.  She also interprets standard worship tunes with this vibe which is really cool.  So for the Hillsong classic “Came to My Rescue”( which is almost defined by how straight the eighth notes are), you can see in the video below how different it is when you swing the eighth notes.  (For the record, she learned the original groove and was willing to play it that way but I loved her interpretation, just to give it a new feel–faster tempo and with swing 8ths instead of straight 8ths).  Here is the originalHer version is below.

(For another example of swing 8ths vs. straight 8ths here is her version of “O Come to the Altar” and here is the original.)

Also I’ll just add that “Came to My Rescue” is such an awesome song that has stood the test of time so well.  So it was one of the songs the teens chose to sing for their teen-led service a couple weeks ago (along with two of my songs–I felt honored).

Give it a try, playing different songs with different grooves!  As a worship tune songwriter myself, I’ll say I love hearing new interpretations of my songs!  There’s no one “right way” to play/sing them!

Shadow of Your Wings – Teens

This is a song I wrote years ago, playing ukulele one summer after reading Psalm 57 in the NLT version. We sang it a few weeks later at youth camp and it became a favorite with the campers (it was so cool to hear 5th-8th graders around the camp singing it).  Now those kids are graduating seniors — here are several of them singing the song (my son being one of them) along with a few other great teen kids (including my daughter).  We had a student-led service yesterday and this is one of the songs we put together for our live stream.


I’ll Fly Away

Happy Monday morning!  I’m hoping to spend some good time in my garage studio today recording some new songs.  I had been putting some time into getting my alt pop/rock project out there as well as my daughter’s album, and now I’ve got a backlog of songs we’ve already been singing in my congregation and at church camps and stuff but haven’t been able to record and share yet–hoping to work on that over the summer!

Anyway, it’s been a rough season, huh?  If you want a little break from the deep and important conversations we are having about race relations / politics / pandemics / the future of our planet, etc, here’s a happy old song we sang on our live stream a few weeks back. For the Bible scholars, I realize the song is not exactly theologically fully-formed in terms of eschatology but it’s metaphor is apt. (For a thorough investigation of physical resurrection, new heaven and earth, and the ramifications for life in the present, I would recommend Surprised by Hope, by N. T. Wright.) Our hope is not in this life (1 Cor 15:19).  But rather our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17).   I don’t think focusing on the next life takes away our responsibilities in this one, in fact I think the opposite.  A heavenly focus should inform and direct our everyday.  We should encourage one another with thoughts of heaven and the next life (1 Thess 4:18), and that keeps us going through times of struggle and hardship.

It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.   – 1 Cor 15:52.


Wow, so much has happened in just a few days.  I can’t believe it was only Wednesday that I first saw a clip of the George Floyd video on the news. I was so incensed, felt powerless, frustrated, angry… yet I know though I’ve been learning and asking many questions of my black brothers and sisters over the last several years, I still don’t understand what many felt watching that clip (or worse yet, the entire video). We had a regional service scheduled (several churches coming together on our livestream) for yesterday so much of our worship service had already been pre-recorded.  We scrambled to re-record as much as we could and speak to what so many were feeling (including a helpful interview Steve Morici did with Greg Russell, our campus minister in Long Beach).  One thing we had already in production was this song, and the words carried so much more meaning, singing them yesterday.  We need a breakthrough in this country, in racial relations.  We need a breakthrough in our struggle against injustice, in repairing centuries of pain and anguish felt by so many.  May God hear our collective prayer for a breakthrough.

“Virtual Worship Team” recording by worship leaders across the Coastal LA Family of Churches (Westside, Greater Long Beach, MLA / El Mensaje, and South Bay)

Intro and prayer to singing the song:

Anchor for the Soul – Virtual Worship Team

During uncertain times and a road ahead that is unclear, it is so good to know that we have “an anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:19) through Christ. This has been a tough time for me and my family. I’ve been working even longer hours, and need to do a better job of setting some boundaries, as the digital world we’re operating in right now allows bleed into almost every moment of our lives. My kids have missed out on a lot (my middle child is a graduating senior and president of the school band, losing a lot of things he had thought would happen this spring). Of course we are also so blessed and grateful for our surroundings, and any difficulties can’t even compare to those who are right now losing loved ones or who are sacrificing so much on the front lines. Still, I battle anxious streams often, and mediating on thoughts such as those in this song help me “set my mind on things above and not on earthly things” (Col 3:2). This song has become one of the most popular of my congregational tunes, maybe because it ministers to others as well (see this post for more of the history of writing the song). God bless you in this time, and may listening to Betty sing this song minister to you on this Monday morning!  (Sheet music is here.)

My Jesus I Love Thee (in Defense of Old Church Songs)

I have written previously in defense of the inclusion of old songs in our worship sets (see “Why Sing Old-Timey Hymns” and “Old Treasures as Well as New”).

I was looking for the right song for us to sing as we shared Communion together yesterday (over live stream), and the Spirit led me to this old hymn I remember singing in church growing up, “My Jesus I Love Thee.” I like its emphasis on the cross and its emphasis on the present moment.  And what a present moment we are in right now!

I made a comment about the inclusion of old songs (this was already an old song when I first heard it!) on the live stream (see this video here). It might be helpful for you to think about if you are involved in planning the worship of your congregation. I often get feedback from the congregation about how easy it is to participate with older hymns, and even with newer songs I write (those that are for congregational use), I strive to emulate the simplicity of melody of songs like this one that make it easy for even average singers to participate with, rather than melodies that show off my vocal abilities.*

I love the new songs we are hearing in Christian churches too, but we have to recognize that our music culture is a performance-oriented one and even the music of the church can be driven by record sales of performing artists rather than community participation, heritage, and body-life of the church. (Dr. David Gordon has written much more about this.)

Do you have a thought about this? Please leave a comment if so! I love hearing from y’all.

*I must say it does help me as a congregational songwriter that I’m not a particularly gifted singer, but for an example of songs I write where I’m singing higher or not-as-simple melodies, see my alt-pop project “Ties to the Light.”  Some familiar only with my church music have even wondered if it was really me singing on some of those songs!

Intro to the congregation on live stream for the singing of the hymn:


People Helping People

Happy Monday!  Hope you are surviving all of this OK and finding new ways to connect with God and people. I appreciate all that HOPE worldwide is doing to meet the need of people around the world, particularly disciples in our family of churches who are hurting right now. I was super honored to be a part of a “virtual concert” HOPE did last Tuesday to raise funds for Covid19 relief ($120K was raised during the event). Here is a video of my contribution to the night, sharing a song I wrote years ago, called “People Helping People.” Please help support HOPE and let’s all pray for each other and be safe.

More Virtual Worship Team Videos

I spent waaay too much time on this last week! I felt like it was important as all of the congregations of the LA Church of Christ came together for a “virtual” online worship service all together that we have singing led by representatives from all the regions of the church, so hopefully the impact was worth the time spent. I used the same process as I explained here, although another brother did all the video editing for us in Adobe Premiere. If you are interested, I’ll leave this page up that has the resources and instructions I sent out to all of the worship leaders who contributed. I made a track for each video of me playing/singing all the parts, so they knew where to build and drop out and stuff like that. You can hear the differences below–kind of interesting. The collaborations are definitely so much richer than just me doing the parts/instruments. (By the way I used cloudbounce for mastering the audio, which I’ve been using lately for my last music projects –I really like it.)

A lot of people have asked “what app did you use to make these” or “what software” –as if it’s the software that does the work. Honestly I think what makes the most difference in quality of virtual videos (and is also the most time consuming thing) is fine-tuning the mix, which is something I feel like I’ve been working on for a lot of years and still have a long way to go to learn. So I would say just use any DAW and do your best, and you’ll keep learning. There are a ton of mixing training videos and tips out there (more than a lifetime’s worth!) so you’ll have lots of resources if you choose to learn more about mixing.

Spirit’s Fire – King of My Heart  – my demo (for people to sing/play along with)

Spirit’s Fire – King of My Heart – LA Worship Leaders  – This is the LA collaboration audio

How Great is Our God – The Stand  – my demo (for people to sing/play along with)

How Great is Our God – The Stand – LA Worship Leaders – This is the LA collaboration audio

James Keyes, Metro LA
Leslie Tolton, Metro LA
Peter Wade, North Region
Jeremiah Farias, Lighthouse Region
Bianca Lua, Lifeway Region
Joya Reyes, Lifeway Region
Lukas Perez, Turning Point
Aleesha Perez, Turning Point
Ryan Weekly, Orange County Region
Virginia Weekly, Orange County Region
Dwight Velarde, Orange County Region
Betty Collins, Coastal LA (South Bay Church)

Keys: Jay Minor, Turning Point
Cajon: Kris Lumowah, Inland Empire Region
Electric: Will Sicam, North Region
Drums: Pete Wade, North Region
Acoustic: J. Brian Craig, Coastal LA (South Bay Church)


Happy Easter: Free from the Grave

This will certainly be an Easter we never forget, huh?  Here is a song I wrote for an Easter Sunday worship service many years ago.  (This video is ripped from our Sunday worship live stream  from my home yesterday, during our Communion segment.) The first couple verses are from Jesus’ perspective* to his followers, and the third verse is our response to his saving act of death, burial, and resurrection for us.  May Jesus give us comfort, guidance, and peace during this time.  Stay safe!

*By the way, I have a whole album of songs from years back that are all from the perspective of Jesus to his followers, if you’d never checked it out here is a youtube playlist.