Jason Todd is a worship pastor, songwriter, and musician. Recently, Jason talked to Worship Links about choosing joy, managing the worship team, and positioning your capo to avoid embarrassment.
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 Jason Todd. I’ve always been very passionate about music and songwriting. I am currently a worship pastor at a multi-site church in Wisconsin that strives to outreach to rural communities. Taco Bell and alto harmonies make me far too happy. I’m also part of a very new Christian band and we’re preparing for our first show in October.
How did you get started in worship ministry?
I was saved my freshman year of high school at a growing Church of God church by my home town. I’ve always loved music so I sang on and off with the youth band, but it was way more about the music than it was God at the time. It wasn’t until I was away from home in college that I began feeling a tug toward music ministry. I was volunteering at a Southern Baptist church as an assistant song leader when God started working in my heart to move toward ministry. By the end of my freshman year of college God opened several doors for me. I received my first guitar as a Christmas gift, a scholarship opportunity opened up at a Christian college, and a part-time job opened up for me near the school. I transferred schools and began to pursue my calling.
What’s your basic process for planning a service or worship set?
My church is very contemporary stylistically. We try to introduce new songs on a regular basis as well as present them in a creative way. Because our campus is the newest campus we have a smaller team, but we’re blessed to have a very multi-talented/driven group of people. When I plan a service I start with figuring out who all can play that Sunday. If we’re not able to be full band, we typically move toward an acoustic set featuring instruments such as cello, mandolin, guitar, and cajon. When choosing songs I attempt to draw a theme from the current series we’re in. If there’s a new song that fits, it usually gets put in the set week one so that we can do it multiple times throughout the series (ours are usually 4 to 7 weeks). From there I build around the “first choice” song by picking keys that are easy to flow into as well as trying to give a healthy balance of upbeat, moderate, and slow tempo songs to the list. My process for prayer usually happens after I completely make the setlist. I’ll pray to Him, saying, “What do you think? Does it need something more? What would you like me to emphasize? Is there a place I should stop and simply talk about You?” Even though I love organization in worship, I find it important to leave room for God to switch it up. My goal is to present my setlist as an offering to Him and watch Him mold it in a way I couldn’t imagine.
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?
- This is Living (acoustic) – Hillsong Y&F
- Freedom – Eddie James
- You Bled – Rend Collective
- Come As You Are – Crowder
- I Believe – Jonny Lang
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?
As far as the management side of worship in general, I am responsible for the church equipment we use. So when it comes to speakers, microphones, cables, and other technical areas, I get/have to do my research and be well informed. I’ve made quite a few impulse equipment buys early on (because two speaker stands for the price of one sounds great) that ended with me having to repurchase that equipment again. Surrounding myself with people who have experience in these areas has saved a lot of time and money.
Managing the team musically comes pretty naturally to me. I thoroughly enjoy giving our musicians freedom both in musicianship and attendance, but there’s a relationship that’s built within that. If our only electric guitarist is burning out or simply needs a break, I want to give him that opportunity. He’s earned it. Worship music can survive without his driving lead lines and remarkable tone for a few weekends. More importantly, he needs it. The management side needs to link to the pastoral side as well. As for freedom in the musicianship, If a musician is skillful enough to think of something creative to add dynamically to a song or set, I want to encourage that. However if they aren’t quite to that point yet musically, it’s my job to encourage them in proficiency. The musician side complements the manager in me because the common goal is to make worship (and the music) the best that it can be.
By far the two hardest parts of managing the band are punctuality and not letting someone join the team. Punctuality is difficult because even though I’m a manager, I’m managing volunteers. I’m asking people to come in at 7:30am on possibly their only day off to begin setting up our mobile campus and prepare for our 10:30am service. I try to make it as fun as possible and motivate the group (coffee and donuts help) but 7:30 is still 7:30. I think as our teams grow in size and we can rotate schedules this will become easier to handle. My goal is to not burn out our team. As for not making it into the band, there are times I have to talk to people either because of musicianship level or a conflict about not being part of the band. I always follow these conversations up with offering to work with them or getting them involved in other ways, but it’s a tough moment for me regardless.
What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?
Immediately I think of Psalm 150. In 6 verses it tells everything that has breath to praise Him with everything we’ve got. It mentions instruments, locations, and even gives us reasons to give Him praise. It shows that all life comes from Him and that all the worship and praise should go to Him in everything we do.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 also speaks to me. It reads “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This scripture is a constant reminder that joy is not happiness. Joy is unending prayer, a life of rejoicing with God in the best and worst moments. Joy is worship.
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 advice is that worship ministry is more than just the music. There’s more to leading worship than practices and Sunday mornings. It’s all about developing trust: trust with your band members, the congregation, and other leadership in the church. It’s ultimately a position that flows less from your voice or instrument, but primarily from your relationship with God and people. That changes everything.
The advice I wish I received earlier on is to always be ready for criticism, and not to take it personally. Not every person in the congregation will like every song choice. The volume may be too high for some, or too low for others. If we shut down criticism we shut down opportunity to grow. There may be some people who will never have nice words to offer, but most of the time people just have concerns. If tons of people say it’s too loud it’s probably too loud, and if lots of people dislike a song it might be best to find a different song.
Let’s talk about your band. How does your involvement in a band influence your worship leading, and vice versa?
Being in a band makes me crave creativity. It’s so fun to play with a group of people that you can easily jam with and come up with creative musical ideas to add to our songs. I’ve noticed that I’ve been carrying that over into my worship leading as well. I’m always looking for the “just the drums” moment or other ways to make a four chord worship song more dynamic.
As for the other way around I notice that being a worship leader is affecting my writing style. We are a Christian band, but I notice my lyrics are not just Christian lyrics, they’re specifically worship lyrics. Most of my songs could easily be sung in a church service, and focus more on who God is in all of our lives rather than a specific moment that God worked in my own life.
What do you think worship in the church will look like in ten years?
I think culturally we’re moving towards a full awareness that worship is “more than just music.” I’ve heard this consistently since my youth group days but churches are starting to act on it more and more now. With dancing, painting, and even the return of older traditions like creeds, worship is evolving into more than music. It wouldn’t surprise me if worship moved in a more interactive direction, having the entire church moving around or creating something together. I do think there will always be a place for music in churches though. I look forward to seeing what new styles will emerge.
Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?
Right now I’m hooked on a newer group called I Am They. I have a fondness for folky stuff.
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done while leading worship (that you’re willing to share)?
I have so many to draw from. The worst one I can think of is forgetting to move the capo for our next song. I started us off on just acoustic but the second the lead guitar line came in it sounded horrible. It was bad enough that I stopped and laughed. I assured the congregation that I was the screwup and not the lead guitarist and we started completely over. I even chuckled a few more times in the first verse.
The congregation loved it, but I was blushing hardcore with embarrassment.
Thanks again for answering our questions. If people want to find you online, what’s the best way?