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Interview: Worship Leader Travis Sinks

Travis Sinks is a worship leader, assistant pastor, and web designer in Florida. Recently, Travis talked to Worship Links about the importance of flexibility, ukuleles in worship, and singing 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.

I was born and raised in Washington State. After graduating with my businesses degree, getting married, and working at my home church (Calvary Chapel in Olympia, WA) for one year, my wife and I moved to Delray Beach, FL, in September 2012 in order to assist with a church plant (Redemption Church). Since then, we’ve had a awesome little boy (James, now 6 months old), I’ve been ordained and serve as the main worship leader, assistant pastor, and general operations/finance guy. All this while also running my web design business (Tnsinks Designs) and helping my wife with her business providing resources for parents of elementary and middle school students (Tips from a Tutor).

How did you get started in worship ministry?

My very beginning inspiration was from a local church band called the “Three Wise Men” who would play at different Calvary Chapels in Washington State. I had been in a couple music classes at school, but it wasn’t until 7th grade that I wanted to play the guitar. I joined the middle school worship team after a couple weeks. I probably would have stopped leading worship in high school because I was too shy to ask, but a youth leader told the pastor I wanted to join the team and he strove to make that happen, even though people told him I wasn’t any good. I’m so grateful that happened.

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

Although some of the technicalities have changed, I’ve always (from mentor guidance) made sure there was a flow lyrically and musically. Usually, this means starting off with some song calling us to gather in worship, or simply focusing on God’s attributes followed by songs that describe and pronounce what we will be focusing on that day in the teaching part of the service. This sometimes fits better than others, but I’m always trying to make sure that the songs lyrically flow into the specific ideas that will be brought out in the sermon. Musically, this means making sure the keys flow well together, and also making sure we’re not in the same key for too many songs in a row (I try to have 2 or 3 songs be in the same key back to back). For changing keys, this means using the circle of 5ths, relative minors and other combinations to ensure easy key changes both musically and vocally.

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?

I think this answer changes fairly often, but as of today it would be:

  • Doxology (Amen) by Phil Wickham
  • Fall Afresh by Fresh Life Worship
  • Thirst by Phil Wickham
  • Holy Spirit by Bryan and Katie Torwalt
  • No Longer Slaves by Bethel

What are the biggest musical and technical issues you feel that worship leaders struggle with?

Being a good worship leader is very difficult musically. I’ve played with both worship leaders and people who only play in bands, and it’s much more difficult to play on a worship team. Not because the music is more difficult, but because there are so many songs, in many keys, and the set changes each week. Bands will practice the same ten songs in the same keys and then play them on tour for a few months. Worship leaders don’t have this leisure.

Because of the situation we worship leaders are in, I think the biggest struggle is being able to be flexible. Musically and vocally this means being able to play the same song in multiple keys, and as a band it means being able to suddenly have the drummer call out sick, or following when the main leader repeats a chorus that wasn’t originally planned. However, we can grow in these areas through practice, both together and separately, and through communication. One of the best things I’ve experienced is having a band who can tell what my different postures meant during a song and being aware of what areas of a song might change based on subtle cues I gave.

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?

Most worship leaders have to focus on four things: singing, playing, leading the band, and leading the congregation. In order to balance all of these things, I think of it in terms of playing at 80% of my musical capacity. This helps keep me from doing too much or from messing up and allows me to focus less on what I’m playing and more on making sure the band is working well cohesively while still focusing on leading the congregation.

For some people, these percentages might fluctuate based on what you need to focus on. I’ve had a large amount of experience leading many musicians so I don’t have to focus as much on them. However, depending on who I’m playing with, I sometimes drop down to even 50% of what I could play just to make sure I’m leading everyone well.

When it comes down to it, simplistic music has never made an experience less worshipful, but poor management and poor playing has. I’d much rather play extremely simplistic music but play it well, and lead better rather than to play complex music but have the quality of my leading suffer.

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

As far as leading worship, there are many such as Psalm 33:3 that encourage us to sing new songs and to play skillfully. I also love all the pictures of heaven and what our worship will one day look like. In regards to being a worshipper, I love different sections of doxology such as Romans 16:25-27 or Ephesians 3:20-21 as they’re so beautiful and get our eyes so fully focused on Jesus.

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?

The average musician on the team can do without much technical music knowledge, but I encourage all worship leaders to learn enough about music theory to be able to talk well about keys and musical structure. I took one year of music theory at community college and it has helped me beyond words with both playing music and especially coordinating others to play together.

I feel like I was given great teachers and inspiration for leading worship, but I wish I would have had someone to encourage me to really utilize dynamics and musical handoffs more. When I was younger I was playing with a great band of about eight people and although we had build ups and downs, I didn’t utilize each instrument as an individual near as much as I wish I did looking back on it.

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

I don’t think we even know about one year from now. Lately, the trend has been more melody with synth-like structure and heavy bass rhythm. I think that in ten years we’ll be moving towards a larger variety of instruments. You see some churches using brass or violins but this isn’t a huge trend yet. However, just in some recent conversations, I’ve heard of friends picking up ukuleles and banjos for the first time. With the increase in music interest I think we’ll begin seeing more musical additions rather than the recent standard of guitar, synth, piano, bass, and drums.

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

Fresh Life Worship came out with their second CD recently, and I love every single song. I think they did a great job. There’s been a rise in the church worship band CDs and original music recently and I think that’s where a lot of the new worship artists will be coming from.

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

I remember in high school leading worship at a retreat and I sang the entire first verse in the wrong key. I had to stop the song and start entirely over (someone else had to sing the first line so I could get the wrong key out of my head). I’ve had to restart songs since then, but never that awkwardly.

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

Thank you! You can find my blog at travissinks.com where I write to encourage and equip ministry leaders (you can find more info on my web design business there as well), and you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at @travissinks.

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