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Interview: Music Director Keith Everette Smith

Keith Everette Smith is a multi-talented producer, songwriter, and musician based in Tennessee. Recently, Keith talked to Worship Links about worship as evangelism, discipling your worship team, and what happens when Rick Warren gets ahold of your cell phone.

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 can’t quite hit this in five! Haha!

I am a music director, music producer, and songwriter, currently touring as a member of TobyMac’s Diverse City Band. I’ve served on church staffs like Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, TN, and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA. I’ve worked with artists like Jack White, MercyMe, Meredith Andrews, and Jonas Brothers. I’ve produced music for the People’s Choice Awards and played on soundtracks like The Jersey Boys and The Lone Ranger.

My current ministry focus is in tandem with my wife, Tasha. We love to lead worship, train worship teams, and counsel pastors and worship leaders struggling to hit their stride together in ministry. We love to help churches develop their own unique worship culture. In particular, I enjoy producing live worship albums that express their unique worship styles!

How did you get started in worship ministry?

I’m a pastor’s kid… I loved music and art and I wanted to be at church! I stepped passionately into leading worship in middle school and high school and was excited about church growth and seeing my friends come to know the Lord.

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

As a leader, I’m most often acting as the music director. In my role at Fellowship Bible, I was helping multiple worship leaders plan each week.

I try to let the Lord guide the process. I look for threads and themes through songs and the way the lyrics compel. I follow the intuition of the Holy Spirit and how He leads me.

When planning a worship set, I tend to start with what God is doing in our hearts as a team and testing that against what we know God to be doing in the congregation. Sometimes it’s a result of a sermon series or something happening in the church body. I then search for songs that reinforce that specific focus.

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?

What a crazy question! Haha. Hmm.

  • Good Good Father – House Fires
  • Let It Be Jesus – Christy Nockels
  • I Will Follow – Vertical Church
  • Freedom – Bethel
  • The Loved Ones – Cross Church Worship

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?

To me the most difficult challenge in leading a worship team is proving with our actions that we care more about God himself than the worship of Him. Worship is wonderful, but the phrase “I love you” means nothing on its own. That statement is powerful because there is someone worth saying it to. I think many people are guilty of idolizing worship itself. We as leaders have to commit to proving with our actions that we care more about Jesus than about music. We must commit to discipling our people (worship team members can be the least discipled people in the church in my experience), spending more time with Jesus than in rehearsals or musical conversations, laying aside any idol of excellence to aim our ambitions towards the exaltation of our wonderful, matchless creator God!

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

Isaiah 43:1-7 “… when you pass through the waters, I will be with you… when you walk through the fire you will not be burned… for I am the Lord your God… your savior…”

This and many other scriptures remind me of who God is to me. When I consider all I am saved from and where I can rest when present and future trials come, I am compelled to worship and to thank God. In these moments of realization, worship is not a decision; it is an impulse!

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?

I always caution young worship leaders to take inventory of their motives. Truthfully, in an age of celebrity Christians, it can be easy for some to have the same career aspirations as someone who hopes someday to be a rock star. I believe this has hurt the church. Worship leaders are pastors. If you feel called to pastor and to lead worship, then spend as much time as you can learning to better pastor people. Let music be the means to do so.

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

I think worship in the church will lose its glossy/flashy outer shell. This generation cares far less about relevance and attracting, and far more about authenticity and consistency.

I believe worship is the most evangelistic thing anyone could witness. I believe worship will play a far bigger role in seeing the lost come to know the lord than any attractive service or program could ever do!

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

Well, as a producer (and a husband), I would probably have to say my wife, Tasha Layton Smith. She is a godly woman, a pastor, and one of the most spiritually sensitive people I know. When she is leading she has one ear tuned to God and one eye on the congregation. God uses her in amazing ways and I’m excited to be working on an album with her right now.

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

My first weekend as a part of Saddleback’s worship team! I jumped up on stage by the pulpit and went to my position on stage. During the service a phone went off near the front of the stage. The ringer was LOUD… and it was MINE. Rick Warren tried to preach through it, but finally said, “could someone please answer that!” The front row pointed to the phone sitting by Rick’s feet. He answered it! “Hi… no, he’s not available.” Then he looked at the congregation and said, “Everyone say hi!” The crowd cheered. I was hot, red, and sweating profusely. I thought maybe I’d lose my job or something. Fortunately, Rick is an amazing, godly man with a wonderful sense of humor!

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

Anytime! What a pleasure! You can find me at keitheverettesmith.com, or on tour this spring with TobyMac on the “Hits Deep” tour.

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