Interview: Worship Director Matt Dailey

Matt Dailey is a Worship Director in Florida. Recently, Matt talked to Worship Links about small worship catalogs, using Matrix Mode, and playing the keytar in worship.

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.

Thanks for having me! My name is Matt Dailey, and I’m the Worship Director at Navarre United Methodist Church in Navarre, Florida. I’ve been on staff here since 2013, but I took on the full-time position in early 2015. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education at the University of West Florida (#fightingseashells), with an emphasis in piano and music theory. Outside of ChurchWorld, I enjoy baseball, comic books, and trivia. My wife Lisa and I are coming up on our fourth anniversary; no kids, but plenty of wayward worship musicians spend time on our couches!


How did you get started in worship ministry?

My parents had put me in piano lessons when I was six, and I didn’t really enjoy it. Actually, that’s being really nice. I HATED IT. When I got near the end of eighth grade (you know, old enough to make adult decisions), I told my mom I wanted to quit. She respected my decision, but before she let me quit she bought me a book of Praise and Worship songs. Like the late 80’s, early 90’s contemporary stuff. SUPER cutting-edge. But I learned to play a few songs, and I was hooked. On my 14th birthday, I sat down behind the piano at church and led a worship song for the first time. I can’t even begin to describe what that felt like for me. It was like sitting down in your favorite chair after a long day at work. Like jumping into a pool on a 100 degree day. It was like seeing color for the first time. I didn’t know it at the time, but God designed me to do what I was doing that morning: to worship him through music. That day changed my life, and set me down a path that would eventually lead me here to Navarre. In high school, I began to lead worship for my youth group, then for church services and events around the Alabama-West Florida conference of the UMC, and then finally took my first position as a “worship leader” at my home church when I was 21.

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

I’m fortunate enough to have a pastor who loves advance planning. Six weeks before we start a sermon series, we sit down with our full ministry staff and have a creative meeting. That’s where we nail down the titles/topics for each week, and any creative elements that we want to include. After that meeting, I sit down at my computer, open Planning Center in Matrix Mode, (sidenote: if you’re a PCO reader reading this and have never used Matrix Mode, it will change your life. Do it now!) and look at the blank canvas. From there, I insert any new songs that we’re introducing, build backwards from there using the songs that have been resonating with the congregation lately, and then add a dash of the classics.


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?

  • Oh God – Citizens and Saints
  • Death in His Grave – John Mark McMillan
  • Lazarus – Bellarive
  • Seen a Darkness – John Mark McMillan
  • Rising Sun – All Sons and Daughters

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 the disparate personalities of a worship team is always the biggest challenge. I’m fortunate at this juncture of my time at Navarre to have made it through some significant personality challenges. When I came on full time we were dealing with some mistrust, and a lack of personal responsibility. Now, we have a team that cares about each other, the congregation, and the Lord, and the way that we worship reflects that.

I think that all musicians are managers in some way – we’re uniquely wired to deal with different challenges that approach, from mastering a new lick to writing a new arrangement. We always have to be a step ahead of the music, and it works the same way with people. It’s crucial to anticipate problems before they happen. The best way I’ve found to do that is to really spend time outside of the church with your team.

What scriptures speak to you the most about worship?

Like any good worship leader, I spend a lot of time in the Psalms. My two favorite regarding worship are Psalm 100 and Psalm 13.

Psalm 100 is the basic blueprint for exhorting a congregation to worship. “Shout to the Lord, all the Earth! Worship the Lord with gladness!…for the Lord is good, and his mercy endures forever!”

Psalm 13 is the flip side of that. David spends four verses crying out to God in distress – he’s in real danger. His enemies are surrounding him and he feels helpless and abandoned. But despite all of that, in verse 5 he declares, “but I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.” That speaks volumes for me, that even when the walls are closing in and we feel like God’s not there anymore, the promises of God still stand.

While we were setting up the interview, you mentioned that you have a keytar. Do you ever use it in a worship set?

I do, actually! I haven’t played it as much since we lost our other pianist, but I used to lead almost exclusively from it, from 2012 when I bought it until March of last year. Easy way to lay down a base of pads and still be able to interact with the congregation. I get asked about it a lot by the congregation – they miss it!


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?

Take time out of your rehearsals to invest in the lives of your team. For me, I call that “cookie time.” It’s exactly what it sounds like: after the first half of our rehearsal, we take a 15 minute break and eat cookies (because who doesn’t love cookies, right?). We talk. We laugh. We spend time together without instruments in hand. You know, it’s funny – we used to start late because people would talk through sound check and have a hard time focusing in. Now that we have cookie time, we’ve never started late because of conversation. People know that they get the connection they crave, because we plan a real time for it.

As for advice I wish I had received earlier? That’s pretty easy. Jon Nicol wrote a book called The Song Cycle, which I highly recommend, and in chapter three he outlines three basic truths.

  • Your worship team can only effectively know so many songs.
  • Your congregation can only connect with so many songs.
  • You can make room for the best songs by eliminating those that aren’t.

When I started my full time position here, we had sung over 200 different songs in two years. Our congregational singing was non-existent, our band was never quite polished enough, and there was this feeling that we weren’t living up to our potential. But after reading Jon’s book, I came to realize that limiting the number of active songs in our catalogs leaves us room for adding truly great ones. I cut the song list to 30, and put a cap on it at 45. Once we hit our cap, each new song means tossing an old song, so I have to be choosy! Now, our band is tight, our congregation sings like never before, and worship is one of the things that our church does extremely well. Read Jon’s book! I wish I had those lessons when I started.

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

I think we’re going to see more churches choose a unique style that fits them. The Worship Wars are over, and as churches start to figure that out I think we’re going to see church cultures decide what kind of worshippers they’re going to be. Less us vs. them, more inter-church cooperation. Also, despite popular belief, the electric guitar won’t be dead yet!

Any new worship artists on your radar at the moment?

I’m really enjoying what Fellowship Creative is putting out. Grace on Top of Grace is maybe my favorite fast song of the last 5 years, and Jesus is Alive is just a super solid declaration of the Gospel.

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

Thanks for having me! You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also find me through our church webpage.

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