Shannon Lewis is a worship pastor in Georgia. He also leads the band Saint Lewis. Recently, Shannon talked to Worship Links about discipleship, his upcoming album, and making sure your capo is on the right fret.
WL: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us. It’s truly appreciated! The first question is an easy one. Tell us a little bit about yourself in five sentences.
SL: I’m Shannon Lewis – Christian, Husband to one, Father to three, Pastor (Youth & Worship), Songwriter, Worship Artists, and all-around Creative. I started life in Ohio, but now live in Georgia – it may surprise many because they don’t think of Georgia as coastal, but I can see the Atlantic Ocean from my street. I’m started on Full-time with First United Methodist Church in downtown Brunswick a little over a year ago, after seven years as the part-time Associate Worship Director at St. Simons Community Church. On Sundays I’m usually ministering at our new Encounter service – leading worship and/or preaching – and leading Youth group, but I can also be found traveling with my band, Saint Lewis, guest-leading worship at various camps, retreats, conferences, or special events usually in the Atlanta, Brevard, Greenville, Charlotte, or Jacksonville areas.
How did you get started in worship ministry?
Long story: I was raised in a non-believing home and declared myself an Atheist at around eight years old, and didn’t even begin to ask questions again until late in High School. Becoming a Christian via the “backdoor”, I decided to follow Jesus before I was convinced there was a God while leaving for college at Ohio University in Athens, Georgia, where I plugged into a few churches just to figure this whole thing out. Before long, I was an absolute Jesus freak – emphasis on the “freak” – I was really the Jesus Hippy guy who slept on the courthouse steps to picket injustice and such. After a few years if you asked me what I believed about God I came to a point where my answer likely wouldn’t offend or scare most Christians, but I never really understood “worship” – it was strange, and many of the songs we sang were so hokey in comparison to what I listened to at the time. I had been in bands influenced by artists like Iron Maiden, Rush, Kansas and King’s X – even my acoustic band, Set on Edge, through-out college had been nicknamed by local music journalists as “Heavy Wood” – to go from that to “As the Deer” was jolting, to say the least. On top of that I didn’t understand why we were singing – for me, I had moved from one life philosophy to another – it was mostly an intellectual thing, until I read John Piper’s book DESIRING GOD. That turned my life on its head: suddenly I didn’t only believe, but I had a PASSION for Him… I began to understand worship because it overflowed out of my awe for God’s beauty and majesty. At around this same time I had relocated to Athens, Georgia, and God worked circumstances out so I fell right into a leadership gap in a local campus ministry, whom I soon after joined full-time as a Campus Minister & Worship Leader. I may have been an experienced musician, but a quality worship leader I was not, but through trial and error, and some quality mentoring, within a few years God had relocated me to Coastal Georgia, and was serving three churches and a large local student ministry simultaneously as part-time worship pastor/leader. I’d have to say that my greatest leap forward in my own worship ministry, however, was Worship God ’08, hosted by Sovereign Grace Ministries and directed by Bob Kauflin. I literally returned from that conference a different person and everyone noticed.
What’s your basic process for planning a service or worship set?
When planning for Encounter we have a basic layout that we follow which usually includes three songs sung corporately, a walk-in song, and a special. I use the walk-in song spot to showcase brand-new – either an original (though I never let anyone know that it’s original – I want honest feedback, if asked) or something so new that absolutely no one has heard it, except maybe during the pre-service iTunes playlist the week before. We usually then stand and sing two corporate songs, from which I usually pull upbeat numbers – usually one universally familiar song, and one “core” song that have become part of our identity as Encounter (for us, those are “Look & See”, “Made Alive”, and “Let it be Known” at the moment), which our people will know, but visitors may be unfamiliar with. Then, as a special, I usually sing whatever we’d used the week before for Walk-in music. Immediately following the message, I plan for a response song – usually a ballad. We don’t stick with this format every week, but that’s the basic layout. It gives me a good three weeks to easily introduce a new song (and we do MANY new songs) and make it really part of our familiar repertoire. Though I do pray, and see if God impresses a specific song on me, and I do also consider the sermon, I also keep in mind what songs our people would do WELL to be singing, based on content and style – I see song selection as a significant aspect of discipleship, because people carry those songs with them throughout the week. I ask myself, what songs will not just entertain them, but truly challenge them to move from where they are to someplace deeper.
Desert Island Worship Mix: You’re trapped on a desert island, and for reasons too ridiculous to explain, you can only have one CD with five worship songs on it. What are they?
Wow, if you only knew me you’d realize that this is the sort of question that makes me lose sleep. Thanks for the anxiety attack!
But seriously, that’s really hard – I’m an ADHD Creative type, so I’m alway searching for the “next thing” – songs I add to my set-list today tend to hit the radio, then the larger church three to four years after I’ve worn them out, so… I guess it would depend on how close to RIGHT NOW I got stranded…
At this very moment:
- “Made Alive” by Citizen
- “Let it be Known” by Tim Hughes & Worship Central
- “Look & See” by Michael Bleecker & Village Church
- “Oh God You Reign” by IHC Music
- “I will give Praise” by Valley Worship
Of course, that list will change tomorrow…
If you could give one piece of advice to up and coming worship leaders, what would it be? Conversely, what’s some advice you wish you’d received earlier on?
Find a mentor, and take their suggestions seriously – I’d also suggest attending a training oriented worship conference, or workshop, like those put on by Aaron Keyes, Dwayne Moore, or David Walker.
What do you think are some of the keys to effective worship discipleship?
That depends on what you mean by worship discipleship. I see the corporate worship time during church as an opportunity for discipleship, and that makes me take my song selection very seriously, and also influences how I lead. I teach as I lead – dig into the Scriptures – connect the dots for people about specific song lyrics – even direct them on how to respond… sometimes, if I think people are struggling to connect with a song musically, I’ll take a break as the band repeats a section and I’ll split the room up into parts and work with the room as if I would a choir. If we’re singing it, it’s a song that’s worth “taking home” and I want it going with them throughout the week.
What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?
I see a re-connection with liturgy taking place… not a return to formality and tradition, but a new liturgy… it’s already begun in pockets, but I see that taking root more broadly – contemporary liturgies.
You’re working on a new album at the moment, right? How’s that going? What’s the whole process been like?
HA! Slow – many leaps forward with long pauses in between. The primary hold-up has simply been funding. We’ve done the self-produced process already, but as creative as that was, it limited our reach. Our current project is being entirely professionally produced, and we’re loving the outcome – it just takes a little longer to raise the funds. My favorite part of the process has been the incredible co-writers and worship pastors around the country I’ve been able to create with. If I’ve learned one thing between the first CD and this one it’s that the work of a group of writers is almost always stronger than a song written by a lone individual, especially when writing for the broader body of Christ. That’s been an incredible process.
Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?
This past year I’ve really been blessed by Citizen’s latest CD, and have also used a number of songs from Village Worship (Michael Bleecker and company) from Dallas, TX. Doctrinally solid, melodically memorable, and really fun to play. I’ve also really been blessed to work with Valley Worship and IHC Music through my publisher, Risen Music – their originals have made their way into my church and into Saint Lewis’ set list, and people have responded to their originals very well! Casey Darnell has really come into his own on his latest CD, as well.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done while leading worship (that you’re willing to share)?
I was leading at a mega-church network in Atlanta – five services in one Sunday at three different locations, not including three soundchecks – and during the second to last service of the night, in front of a room of 3000, I misplaced my capo on “Christ is Risen” by Matt Maher. What’s worse, I was so fried by that time mentally that I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong. I stopped the song twice, and was of half-a-mind to punt the whole thing off on my wife who was on keys, until I realized that it was I who was playing one-half step off key. It’s on video. We had a good laugh as I said into the mic, “The Holy Spirit has NOT yet left the building, thank You, Jesus!” And He hadn’t – it was one of the most intensely beautiful times of worship I’d ever experienced afterward. Sometimes you’ve just got to laugh at yourself! I laugh at me a lot.
Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?