Interview: Worship Leader Trent Barnett

Trent Barnett is a worship leader in Louisana. Recently, Trent talked to Worship links about managing volunteers, leaving your comfort zone, and getting stuck in the wrong key.

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 Trent Barnett. I’m 29, married to my best friend, Brittany, and we have one precious daughter, Caroline. I graduated with my Master of Divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2011. I currently lead worship for three services a week at Live Oak UMC in Watson, LA. I love to read books on theology, apologetics and Christian living.

How did you get started in worship ministry?

When I was in youth, the bassist for the youth worship team was about to graduate and move off to college. The leader asked if anyone was interested in playing or learning bass. I’d never played anything (aside from French horn in school band), so I borrowed a bass and began working on learning. The team allowed me to begin playing with them on songs as I’d learn them, so it was a smooth transition in. Over time, I began singing, as I had been in choir during my childhood. This opportunity was the first step on a journey that continues today.

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

First and foremost, pray. That can’t be overstated. Anyone can pull songs out of a folder, put a set together and even lead songs, but without prayer for God’s moving, it’s simply going through the motions (not to mention, devoid of the Spirit). After that, I look at our pastor’s Scripture/topic for the week/month (he preaches month-long series). When there are songs that fit with the focus or Scriptural text for the week, it’s best to include those into the worship set, to help keep a cohesiveness throughout the whole worship service. From there, it’s important to look at keys and tempos and work to arrange the setlist so there is good flow from one song to the next.

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, this is so difficult! There’s easily ten more that could make this list. But, here goes…

  • “With Everything” – Hillsong United
  • “Here’s My Heart” – Crowder
  • “Jesus Paid It All” – Kristian Stanfill
  • “Oh the Glory of It All” – David Crowder Band
  • “You’re Beautiful” – Phil Wickham

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?

Managing personnel can be the most challenging part of the job. Our teams are all volunteers, so nearly every week, there will be a slot to fill – people out for vacation, sick, helping elsewhere, etc. It’s important to stay in touch just as much with the every-week members as it is with people who may only play once a month. Those “backups” have to be on the same page as the rest of the team and well-practiced on any new music, etc., so that, when they step in, the quality of leadership isn’t affected negatively or distracting to the congregation.

It can also be discouraging when a volunteer doesn’t learn their part as well as you think (or hope) they should. That takes a balance as well. Not all musicians are up to the same caliber as those for Hillsong United, Crowder, etc. Expecting the part to sound exactly like it does on the recording is just wishful thinking, if that’s not where the musicians on your worship team are. It’s important to balance quality musicianship with quality leadership. One particular guitar riff shouldn’t make the difference between whether a congregant is able to connect with God or not. But, one musician in a completely different ball park than the rest of the team certainly can hinder true worship (this can be true too if you have a prodigy guitar player on a team of average musicians – their skills can become the showcase and distract from worship). So, there’s an expectation of quality, musicianship and teamwork, but also an expectation of worship leadership as the primary task for all worship team members. Build a team you trust and let them lead. No one likes to be micromanaged.

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

Psalm 33:3 – “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” (Always a great reminder for musicians and singers that being playing skillfully is scriptural).

Psalm 150 – Praise him every where and every way imaginable!

Amos 5:21-24 – If God isn’t in it, it’s just noise. We must be filled with His truth, love, righteousness and hope.

John 4:23-24 – Worship is a matter of spirit (not physical location), so our worship of him should be an every moment of every day activity, not just something we do at a church building once or twice a week.

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?

Through the process of leading worship in the local church, I’ve mentored several students, some of whom are now leading at other churches or other services at our church. The best way to get better at leading is to do it – repetition – as often as possible. When you’re in that week-to-week environment, you have to face the mess ups, the musician calling in sick, the quick turnaround for the next set. That becomes easier, more manageable through repetition. The other thing is: push yourself. We often get settled in our comfort zone and nothing can budge us from that, but worship leadership requires you to always adapt to your environment (reading the room, paying attention to the clock, filing in for that absent leader, etc.) and to continue bettering your skills – new songs, new technology (clicks, loops).

Several years ago, I began learning acoustic guitar, but was always afraid to play it in front of people. I doubted my abilities and didn’t want everyone to see me mess up. So, for leading the youth group, I had two other acoustic guitarists play for me, while I sang (we were just doing acoustic sets at this time). Long story short: one week those two guitarists told me at the last minute they couldn’t make it. I was on my own. It was either sing a cappella or play my guitar for the first time in front of people. I chose the latter and, to this day, still lead primarily from an acoustic guitar. Had I not stepped out of my comfort zone and pushed myself, there’s no telling where I’d be today or how many opportunities to lead I would have had to turn down for lack of ability. I wish I’d had more people pushing me out of my comfort zone and challenging me all along. Push yourself. Accept the challenge. Lead well.

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

Worship music has come so far in the past ten to fifteen years! I came across a video of “The Wonderful Cross” from Passion: One Day (2000) the other day. T-shirts, jeans, Matt Redman wearing weird sunglasses, hands in his pockets the whole time, musicians standing around, not much energy or emotion. Thankfully, we’ve added more attention to detail since then – more focus on professionalism. With that though has come an influx of other “professional,” large production elements like huge light shows, fog machines, etc. Once only seen at major conferences, those elements are making their way into more local churches. Despite the pros and cons of that, I sense over the next ten years, worship culture will move away from the huge light shows and production, to more straightforward worship – still more professional than that clip from 2000, but less focus on arena rock sounds and “bigger than life” leaders.

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

Lauren Daigle. She’s recently had a couple singles getting some radio play and was on Outcry tour, so she’s on more people’s radar now. Her album “How Can It Be” is full of great songs of worship. I’m listening to it over and over in my car these days. I can’t get enough (she’s also from south Louisiana, so that’s a nice bonus too).

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

Early on, when I was still in youth, we were having a big youth rally, with other church youth groups attending. It was easily the biggest crowd I’d played in front of (at that point). We led worship to start out, the guest speaker did an amazing job and we got back up to lead an invitation song. It was “Worthy, You Are Worthy” by Don Moen. The keyboard was playing the chords and I came in singing in a completely different key! It was like I was stuck too. I knew I was in the wrong key, but couldn’t find my way out. It was an embarrassing moment, for sure, but it taught me several things: be prepared, lead well, manage problems well (they’re going to come)… oh, and be prepared, for anything.

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

Twitter and Facebook.

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