Interview: Music Pastor Ricky Ragone

Ricky Ragone is a Music Pastor in Albany, NY. Recently, Ricky talked to Worship Links about evaluating worship songs, leading intentionally, and the importance of planning out what you’re going to say.

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.

My name is Ricky Ragone, and I am from/live in Albany, NY. I am married to my wife of almost three years Katie, and we are not to the kid stage yet. We both went to and met at Cairn University, just outside of Philadelphia, PA. I serve as the Executive/Music Pastor at King’s Chapel and have in a full-time capacity since the summer of 2012. I have been leading worship through music in some capacity since 2006, maybe even before if you count the rough just learning guitar youth group phase of leading.

How did you get started in worship ministry?

I got started in worship ministry back when I in youth group, just leading a couple songs poorly as I was figuring out chords. But I really got started the summer of 2006 when I joined my church’s worship band as a guitarist.

What’s your basic process for planning a service or worship set?

At our church specifically we like the entirety of the service to work together cohesively, the Scripture being the focal point that brings about that “glue.” I look at the text personally, then I meet with the lead pastor and we discuss the application points that he’ll be hitting. Then I look through our repertoire trying to find at least two songs that lock into that theme really well, and then four more that may not be exactly on with the text but are gospel-centered so really no matter what they’ll tie in somehow. If I’m lucky I can line of keys the same making transitions much easier, but I really try to allow content to drive the sets more than anything.

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?

  • All I Have Is Christ – Sovereign Grace Music
  • How Deep The Fathers Love For Us – King’s Kaleidoscope Version
  • Oh God – Citizens & Saints
  • Come Behold The Wondrous Mystery – Matt Papa
  • You Alone – David Crowder* Band

What criteria do you use to evaluate a song for congregational worship?

First question I ask: are the lyrics theologically sound? I have to start there because if that fails then everything else doesn’t matter for me. Second, is the song more me centered or God centered? Personal response and reflection are good in a worship song, but at the end of the day the song should paint for us a greater picture of God. Third, is it Gospel-Centered? I know not every single song can be gospel-centered which is why its third on the list. But if a song can sing of redemption and salvation I prefer it. Fourth, does it make sense for a congregation to sing this? There are some great songs out there that I could sing all day in sincere worship… but if I lead corporately it just wouldn’t fit. Or there are songs where I need to change “I” to “we” so that it feels like we’re signing as a body in community, rather than a bunch of individuals trying to live out our own personal/isolated Christianity.

After all of that criteria, then I would evaluate the musical aspects, the style, the melody, etc. It’s been my experience that people can learn songs that may not be the catchiest off the bat, so if a song meets all the other criteria but could be a little hard to catch onto I’ll still give a go. Chad Gardner from King’s Kaleidoscope said in a podcast interview (and I’ll have to paraphrase) “people will sing along with songs even if they’re difficult… Justin Timberlake’s songs aren’t necessarily easy to sing, but his concert had some of the greatest corporate singing he has heard.” (Sorry Chad if I butchered that) But just to clarify, most of the time I do want a song to be easy to sing, but there are exceptions for really, really good content.

What have you found are some of your greatest challenges in managing a worship team? How do you handle the balance between being a musician and being a manager?

The greatest challenge I think in managing a team is getting to know how to communicate with each band member. Some members take criticism harder than others, and so on. So learning how to convey what I would like to have happen in a song or learning how to address a lack of practice/preparation or showing up late, etc… without making band members hate me. 🙂

And I think that ties into the second question as well, because as a musician/artist I’m open to more than one way for a song to go, but as a manager I need the song to flow a certain way so the congregation knows how the song will go. So when communicating if something does or doesn’t work in a song as a musician I can appreciate their take on a song, but as a manager I need to be able to speak up if that stylistic variation won’t work.

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

Wow, this is a tough one just because there are so many different aspects to worship. But I guess I would say Revelation 4 and 5 are what speak to me the most about worship, at least through declaration and song. We see this repetition of “worthy” and that really is what worship is, we’re ascribing worth to something. He is worthy for He created all things (Revelation 4:11), He is worthy because He is the lamb who was slain and ransomed His people (Revelation 5:9;12). As a result of that evident worth“every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’” (Revelation 5:13) And then we can’t leave off Revelation 5:14, “And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

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?

My greatest advice would be to remember that leading people in the praise and worship of God is something not to be taken lightly. We’re more than just song singers and musicians putting on a show. The verbal transitions are important, the demeanor we have on stage is important, to some extent our clothing on the platform is important. The whole time we’re up there we are communicating and leading in one way or another. The sad depressing worship leader will inevitably create a sad and depressed worship environment; the overly happy all the time worship leader will create a fake environment because everyone will think they need to be super happy. So I wish someone had told me earlier, to be real but be mindful, and be intentional in everything I do when leading. If there is sorrow remember the hope we have in Christ when speaking, if you’re super joyful remember there are hurting people too. This would have probably prevented a lot of terrible and distracting mistakes.

What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?

I have no idea what I think, but I hope it will still look like a congregation singing of God’s infinite worth and glory… in whatever style is relevant to that day and to that churches cultural context. Though I’m sure there will be tons more iPads in use across the board.

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

I don’t know if he qualifies as new, but Matt Papa is someone who popped up on my radar over past year or so. He’s got great, gospel-centered, well written worship stuff.

What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done while leading worship (that you’re willing to share)?

I think it was either my sophomore or junior year in college. I was asked to lead for one of the chapels. (And this ties back into question an earlier question) We lead the classic song “Give Me Jesus,” and we finished the song and I feel like, “I need to say something.” But I had no plan, and no idea what that was. I wanted to say something to the effect of “Yes, God thats all we need… give us Jesus. Let us focus our minds and hearts on Jesus alone!” But all that literally came out of my mouth was “Give me Jesus?” Yes, with an upward inflection like I was asking a question. That was in front of a couple hundred people.

Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?

Twitter & Instagram or Facebook.

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