Zac Hicks is Worship Pastor, author, and prolific blogger (check out his blog for some very insightful and detailed articles about worship). Recently, Zac talked to Worship Links about book recommendations for worship leaders, the target on every worship leader’s back, and one of the funniest freudian slips you’ll ever read about.
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.
I’m a sinner saved by grace, blessed with a wife and four kids. I serve as Pastor of Worship at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I grew up in Hawaii, studied music in Los Angeles, and studied theology in Denver. I am an ordained minister in a small denomination called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
How did you get started in worship ministry?
Out of necessity and providence. I was part of a small church growing up, and by the time I became part of the youth group, its size had dwindled. They had no one to lead them in singing songs when they got together. So one Saturday, I picked up my mom’s old classical guitar, learned a heap of chords, and then the next week, I was off to the races.
What’s your basic process for planning a service or worship set?
I start with a lot of prayer and desperation. I serve in a context and under a theological and historical framework that compels me to not start service-planning with a blank slate. Certain things are there, structurally, for the people of God, week in and week out. That structure includes: Call to Worship, Adoration, Confession, Assurance/Grace, Offering, Sermon, The Lord’s Supper & Baptism (on certain weeks), Response, and Benediction. I start here because I think that a structure like this is both biblical and historical. It’s biblical because it’s shaped like the Gospel, the Bible’s story—The Greatness of God, the Gravity of our Sin, the Glory of Grace. It makes little of us and much of Jesus. It’s historical because the Church, in some form or fashion, has been worshiping in this structural wheelhouse for centuries (check out Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Worship.) So, when I plan a worship service, I hang songs, prayers, transitions, and readings on these pegs. Our worship set, therefore, typically looks like (1) a big opening song or two about the attributes and glory of God, (2) a song or prayer of confession about how much we’ve blown it, (3) a relieving song about Christ’s finished work in life and death on our behalf. In this respect, our worship sets almost always have an up-down-up kind of contour—musically, emotionally, and theologically.
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?
- Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (Robinson)
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Neander)
- Lord, I Need You (Maher, et. al.)
- Rock of Ages Cleft for Me (Toplady)
- Can I count the Book of Psalms as one, long song? I think it would fit, so long as the disc is burned as an mp3 CD rather than as an audio CD.
What do you feel are some of the greatest challenges and rewards of leading worship?
One of the greatest challenges I face is fighting the perpetual temptation of thinking too highly of myself. We worship leaders have a bad habit of slipping into that mediatorial role between God and His people that’s only reserved for Jesus. Even the title “worship leader” (though I use it all the time myself) makes me a bit itchy. It sounds too much like what Scripture describes as Jesus’ job description.
Another challenge is that this role often comes with several price tags: (1) The enemy hates God’s worship; so there’s a big target on any worship leader’s back. He afflicts me and my family, he gets between me and my wife, he causes strife in and around my volunteers, staff and co-pastors. He’s ruthless, and it gets wearying. (2) There is a freedom of worship that we lose as worship leaders. Part of our sacrifice of praise, for the sake of the people of God, is to think and worry about the details so that the rest of our brothers and sisters are free not to. We worry about musicality, transitions, vision, message, etc., so that the people of God can simply experience the journey of the service in God’s presence, less encumbered by the details that make it happen, humanly speaking. I often have to console young worship leaders who feel all dried up because their passion for worship has dwindled. They often say, “I wish I could just be a congregant again.” We worship leaders have to journey through that desert a few times before we realize that learning how to engage our hearts in that place is part of our calling. (3) We also are called to rise above our feelings and circumstances, which can at times feel very painful and inauthentic. There have been countless times where my heart has not been in the words that I have been singing, leading, and praying. But part of our duty is to rise to the call of our office. Sometimes, being “authentic” as worship leaders can actually be a selfish move because we rob the people of God of the leader they need in that moment. Being a leader, even when you don’t feel like it, can be one of the most difficult challenges of the job.
The greatest rewards are too numerous to count, so I’ll just name one. We get a front row seat to witness God act in one of the most cosmic, heaven-meets-earth moments He ever orchestrates—the weekly worship service. God does things there He chooses to do nowhere else. God reserves special blessings and graces for His people in a worship service that He pours out nowhere else…not on hikes, not in our personal devotional time. When the people of God gather, God rends the heavenlies, shows us a glimpse of the future, displays Christ in special ways, and touches His people with grace upon grace. We worship leaders get a front row seat to THAT. We have the best job ever!
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?
Study music hard, and study the Bible hard. The last thing the Church and the world of art need is a mediocre musician and an anemic theologian planning and leading their worship services.
I wish someone, on the front end, would have explained to me how the idea of Total Depravity applies even to well-meaning church people. Then I would have been prepared for how mean a church can be to its own worship leader. I wish I had heard some more horror stories and read some examples of angry emails and self-righteous slander. It’s important for worship leaders to realize that the church is a hospital for sinners and that we will hurt each other, deeply and regularly. It’s not that worship leaders who know this won’t get hurt, but that they won’t be surprised by the hurt. And then, in response to that, I would have been spared a few years of torture if I had understood how the Gospel applies to those wounds in me and other people and how I can therefore respond in love and with a pastor’s heart.
What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?
Worldwide, I think it will grow increasingly pentecostal/charismatic. In the West, I’m hopeful that it will grow more thoughtful and Christ-centered rather than haphazardly experiential. Musically in the West, I think we’ll see moves toward things becoming both more digitized and more human. Loops and laptop rock will continue to morph and grow in influence. And a response to that will be more humanized, acoustic, low-fi versions.
What scriptures speak the most to you about worship?
- The Psalms
You’re a contributing author to Doxology & Theology, a book that I believe every worship leader should, probably multiple times. What other books do you recommend for worship leaders?
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done while leading worship (that you’re willing to share)?
A freudian slip during my reading of Psalm 150 as a call to worship. I accidentally blurted out “Let everything that has breasts praise the Lord.” Evidently God only wanted only one of the two genders (and maybe a few of the larger men) to be worshiping the Lord that morning.
Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?