Tuesday, August 7, 2007

GMA Conference in the Rockies 2007

Most of you who read my blog know that I'm a worship leader who dreams of becoming a songwriter/recording artist professionally. I have no desire to leave the worship ministry and no ambition beyond what I believe God has intentionally caused my heart to crave, and yet I've always felt like these two desires in my life are in conflict (writing songs and leading worship). It seems to me that the ministry of worship is altogether selfless, directing all praise and glory to God whom the congregation came to hear (in theory). But writing about my life experiences and being in the spotlight has always seemed a selfish catharsis- being the object of honor rather than the mirror of someone more honorable. So I don't write more than 10 songs per year and even then, I never have the opportunity to get them out to the masses. And while God has granted me contentment as a worship leader and I've been blessed to see Him change lives time and time again through this ministry, the longing to write music has left me with this sort of "holy discontentment" and a heart that's continually sick ("Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."-Proverbs 13:12). I've tried and prayed and fasted and waited... and yet the Lord withheld His vision from me of how all of these longings will be satisfied and reconciled... until last week when He made it all so much more clear.

God told me I'm supposed to run away with the circus...
(Just seeing if anyone reads past the first paragraph. Please read on.)

Before I tell you what "became clear," first let me tell you about where I was last week. I returned home Saturday after spending 8 days in Estes Park, CO where I attended the Gospel Music Association's 33rd Annual "Music in the Rockies" conference. (I took the picture above as I rounded the corner entering into Estes Park for the first time- it nearly stopped my heart how beautiful it was.) The week of hands-on training, masters classes, and networking opportunities is designed for songwriters, worship leaders, and artists to sharpen their skills and hone their craft. I was 1 of 1,000 conference-goers who were privileged to spend a week learning from "the best of the best" in their particular fields of interest. I focused mostly on the songwriting track while I was there, so I was able to learn from such highly-successful and widely-published songwriters as Sue C. Smith, Dave Clark, Ben Glover, and Don Koch. You haven't heard of them, but chances are you've heard of some of the artists who have recorded their songs: Faith Hill, Steven Curtis Chapman, Gloria Gaither, Travis Cottrell, Joy Williams (to name a few). Sitting in classes and receiving one-on-one critical feedback on my songs with these writers and artists was a lot like being a sponge thrown into an ocean; you soak up what you can, but you can never absorb it
all in one week.

At the end of each day I tried to spend focused time writing songs and applying the techniques and ideas I had "absorbed" throughout the day (ringing out the sponge onto paper, so to speak). And by the end of the week, I had over 20 songs and song ideas started and a few completely finished. ("But that still doesn't solve your problem of not having an open door to get your music out there." - I'm getting to that, I promise...)

The week before I flew out to Colorado, I was contacted by Craig Dunnagan, the Vice President of Integrity Music Publishing. Through a mutual friend, Craig heard two of my songs, "That Sweet Someday" and "Were You There," and he liked what he heard and wanted to get to know me. We talked for ten minutes and scheduled a follow-up phone conference for a more in-depth discussion at a later date (a couple weeks from now). But in that short conversation, Craig gave me a lot to think about and some great advice. He made it clear that he would like to work with me in some capacity, which is
ridiculously exciting; even if it's just to give me tips on how to make my songs better, it's a huge privilege for a young writer like me to have the ear of the VP of the biggest worship music publisher in the nation. Craig told me to link up with his associate, Lee Black, while I was in Colorado at this conference. Lee is the Songwriting Development Coordinator for Integrity and was scheduled to be a judge at the GMA conference.

To make a long story shorter, I linked up with Lee in Colorado, had coffee with him, and we really hit it off. We talked for a solid two hours about life, ministry, music, and future opportunities (I was expecting 30 minutes). Of all the advice, tips, and tricks I learned on this trip, Lee's advice certainly made the deepest impact in my heart:
Write songs that effectively communicate the heart of your home congregation and then let God sort out where He takes your music from there; listen to the hearts of your church members when you pray with them and counsel them and then write your songs from those interactions- and THEN you'll be a successful songwriter and worship minister, whether or not you're ever published outside your own church's walls."

It was an immediate splash but a very slow sinking in; I knew instantly that what he had said had changed my perspective forever, but I'm still unpacking those words today, a week later. His words echoed the Scripture verse that speaks of being faithful with little before you can be given more; why should God entrust me with the responsibility of writing songs that express the hearts of the
nations when I haven't yet been faithful to express the hearts of the 300 friends in my home church? It's such arrogance to ever think that God should expand my platform of ministry before I've faithfully served Him from this one. He doesn't know it (yet), but the Lord used Lee to bring my blinded vision into focus.

Here's the conclusion of all of this: Last week, the Lord renewed my vision of what He's called me to do: a ministry where He uses not one gift or the other (writing or worship), but where both passions work in synergy toward the purpose of leading people to His throne. The songs that I write don't have to be "selfish catharsis," they can put words in the mouths of God's Church; the lyrics that I pen don't have to "get out to the masses," they simply have to express what one person's heart would want to say if it could find the words. For the 10 years I've been a worship leader, I've been angsty about when God would ever satisfy my desire to write songs. As it turns out, the opportunities to write weren't in a record contract or publishing deal, they were right here in the church where the Lord called me to be all those years ago.

I can't tell you what a mystery that's been in my life and what a no-brainer it is now that the blinders have been removed from my eyes by the Spirit- in His perfect timing. While much of His plan still remains a mystery, I truly believe God ordained this past week at the GMA conference to be the moment in time when He would unveil a major missing piece of my destiny.

I'm keeping in touch with Craig, Lee, and several other writers and producers I met in Colorado and trust that they will continue to be a source of wisdom for me. And who knows, maybe someday God will use me to write the songs of the nations. But for now, He has called me to be faithful with these 300 hearts, and that's a tremendous responsibility. So, I have committed to write faithfully every week from this point on. My goal is 50 songs this year, good bad or ugly- it doesn't matter, just so long as they're expressions of worship from the hearts of those I lead and come in contact with.

"Lord, set my eyes like flint on this road you've set me on and keep my vision pure until we finish the race. Place what you will in my hands and then teach me to lay it down- not once, but every day- however much or little you entrust to my care."


Danny Boy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Danny Boy said...

I don't know why there isn't another comment re: this post, but there should be.

Very good to see and read bro. I think that is right next to/part of the heart of missional living and calling. I believe that God has me at where I am for a reason, and that reason is to shed light and spread love at the precise place where I presently stand. What exactly that means and how that shall manifest itself in the time to come, I do not know. However, what I do know is that, like you noted, we must deal with what we hold in our realm of responsibility at the present before we dare worry and fear what we may receive or long for in the future. I've been thinking about similar things a good bit over the past month plus, i.e. missional living and the unifying of career, ministry, job, and artistic passion.

I hope you are well homie. I'll try and catch you before it gets too late in the day sometime this week.


-Danny Boy

Ryan B said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Ned. I'm checking your blog daily, looking forward to your next post. Talk to you soon.