interviews

Interview: Worship Arts Pastor Tod Huston

Tod Huston is a seasoned worship leader in Springfield, Ohio. Recently, Tod talked to Worship Links about managing your team well, shifting attendance patterns, and the dangers of accidental transposition.

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 am soon to be 50 years old and I was born and raised in a small town in the heart of Amish country in Ohio and am now living and serving in Springfield, Ohio. I came to Christ as a 9th grader and had the joy of being baptized the same day as my father and a younger sister. I have a wonderful wife, Wendy, and three children, the last of whom heads off to college this fall (empty-nesters, yikes). This August will mark my 20th year in full time worship ministry with the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.) which has some roots in the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. I love to read, play some occasional golf and I am a runner. I completed my 5th marathon this past fall.

How did you get started in worship ministry?

I had heard God’s call to ministry when I was a senior in high school but ran from it. I didn’t know anyone involved in a worship ministry capacity and didn’t sense God had called me to preach. So I took my music skills and gifts and pursued a music education degree. I spent eight years as a public school band director after graduation but almost immediately began to feel a holy discontent in my heart. Long story short: about five years into my teaching career I began to serve (for a small stipend) as the worship pastor in the church I was attending but was still wrestling with God’s call on my life. My father (a physician) died suddenly that year and through his memorial service came to discover how he had been used by God to speak not only into the physical well-being of others but cared for their spiritual condition of others. I saw how committed he was to serving the Lord first and foremost that I knew I must use the gifts God had given in a much more direct way in the kingdom. I began a two year journey of licensing and ordination that ended with my coming on staff full-time at the church I attended.

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

Prayer is an essential part of any planning I do. My ongoing prayer is that God will keep me open to the fresh wind of the Spirit in general and to the more specific ways he is moving in the hearts and lives of the congregation I serve. Each time I sit down to choose music and other worship elements I pray for God’s wisdom and prompting. I try to keep our worship directed towards God, His redemptive work in Christ and our response to His unbreakable love and grace towards us. I also love to make connections in some way to the preached Word each week and I am grateful that my senior pastor plans his preaching calendar out a year at a time. Definitely a help in looking for worship elements. I make use of CCLI, Worship Leader Magazine’s Song Discovery and other resources to try and stay current with new songs but I keep a hymnal handy because I want folks to stay rooted in the worship of God’s people down through the ages. Most sets lean mostly contemporary but include great hymns as the Spirit leads.

I try and have a tentative service order in the hands of my teams 2-3 weeks out. I post service orders to Planning Center Online as well as create Spotify playlists they can access. I use the team scheduling feature in Planning Center to confirm participation in that same 2-3 week time frame. I also review service orders with the pastoral staff in our weekly meetings.

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?

  • Be Thou My Vision – Ascend the Hill
  • Give Me Jesus – Fernando Ortega
  • Forever Yours – Gateway Worship
  • Spirit of the Living God – Vertical Church
  • Hands Toward Heaven – Chris Cauley (Northpoint Inside Out)

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?

One of the biggest changes came when I left the church I began ministry with to come to Springfield. The congregation and thus my team is SIGNIFICANTLY bigger than before. I would say one of the greatest challenges has been the communication piece; keeping tech and musical teams scheduled and informed. I always want to communicate in timely ways and with enough detail to help every member of the team have tools to aid in their preparation for worship. My present team had not been super connected through technology in the past so I am working hard to transition them to using Planning Center Online and other online/cell phone related resources.

For me one of the keys to balancing the two is to make sure that I set aside time to practice. I need to regularly practice in general to keep my skills strong but also to prep for each service. I expect my team to practice and I need to expect myself to do the same. I schedule in my weekly counter specific times to practice each week. If I don’t I will spend more time in front of my computer or on my mobile device just working on the managerial side of things.

I think another key for me is to remember that my team is made up of people and not just pieces to be moved around a board or processes to be managed. I need to engage with them at a personal/relational level as well as be sensitive to their thoughts and feelings through the rehearsal process, etc. I need to work to make sure my work in managing has room for two-way conversation.

I guess on a more personal note I have also had to let go of my bent towards perfectionism which causes me to want to control things a lot. I have had to become comfortable with the inevitable wrong notes/chords, tempo issues, etc., that arise with myself or with my team. Those things can often rob me of the joy of making music, delighting in His presence, experiencing His delight in me and accepting His grace.

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

It is hard for me to not include Isaiah 6:1f. It reminds me of the greatness and holiness of God, our need for His cleansing, His gracious removal of sin and His call for us to go and share the good news.

John 4:23-24 speaks of the kind of worshippers God is seeking and the essential nature of spirit and truth. They are what helps keep our worshipped anchored and in balance.

Romans 12:1-2 is another essential because it reminds me that worship is more than just songs and sermons. All of life is intended to be a response to the love, grace and greatness of God.

Lastly I love 2 Cor. 3:18 because it reminds me of the goal of our worship; that as we behold Him in worship we are to be changed to become more like Him. God’s work includes not only redemption but also restoration. Worship should help shape us more in His image.

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?

Pursue solid biblical/theological underpinnings for worship and be a student of the Word. These are vital to help you navigate the ever changing landscape of opinions, songs, styles and various worship expressions. They also assist in evaluating lyrics and expressions to ensure they are in line with the Word.

I wish someone would have help me see the importance of helping disciple people (individuals and congregations) into a deeper understanding of worship and to take more opportunity to teach and speak to this issue.

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

I think from a musical standpoint there will be an increasing diversity of musical styles found across the church. As our world and nation becomes even more culturally diverse I think it only natural that those cultures will influence our song styles. I also think that as our nation seems to shift farther away from a knowledge of church life and of Jesus we may see a significant shift back to some of the more ancient worship traditions of the Church, things that have stood the test of time and perhaps better communicate the deep and unchanging truth of Christ.

Beyond that I am wrestling with how the shift in people’s attendance pattern will impact corporate worship. What impact comes when ‘regular’ attendance becomes more like one out of every three or four Sundays? How do we help people learn new songs? How do we help keep people connected and rooted in the practice of baptism and the gathering at the Lord’s Table.

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

We Are the Monks
Central Live

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

Accidentally hit the transpose button on my keyboard and started a song in a different key than the rest of the band. Sadly, it took me 3-4 measures to figure out why it sounded so bad.

On 1-2 occasions I have also transitioned to a different but similar song to what I had planned and rehearsed with the team. I direct transitioned and kept playing but left everyone else behind for a few bars. Fortunately they knew the ‘new’ song well enough to follow me any way and the computer tech eventually caught up as well.

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

I am on Facebook, Twitter, and just getting into Instagram and I occasionally blog through WordPress. It is called “Traveling Music“. Folks can always connect with me by email at thuston@maidenlane.org or through our church website www.maidenlane.org.

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