Monday, 14 December 2009

New Christmas Songs

In response to my last post I thought I'd share a couple of songs. One new and one of my favourites. Enjoy, Thanks to Paul Knox for the first one.

You might like to try Sovereign Grace Ministries album called Saviour: Celebrating the Mystery of God Become Man, A couple of songs in particular Rejoice and The Son of God Came Down (follow this link to hear samples -

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Chris Rea, Coke and All Things Christmas

With every Christmas time as a worship leader I scour the virtual shelves of my favourite music websites in search of some new Christmas music. It’s my annual search for something fresh for this time of year. Now I have nothing against a good old traditional carol, in fact I’ll try and slip a Christmas hymn in to a service as early as I can but even I cannot beat the retailers in their pursuit to extend the festive period. To be battered into submission in October is not cool – Yes Argos I’m talking to you!!! No matter how loud you make Noddy Holder shout it, it most certainly is not Christmas.

I’m not naive enough to think it has anything to do with a love for Christmas - it’s all about sales, simple cash in the tills. The earlier you tell people Christmas is coming (cue the Coca-Cola Truck driving through snow covered countryside carrying in the back not the suggested bottles and cans of coke but the imprisoned 100 piece choir shackled together and forced to constantly whisper “Holidays are Coming, Holidays are Coming, Holidays are Coming, Holidays are Coming”), the earlier the panic sets in – “You must buy this item before it sells out we only have 1800 left in stock and the next delivery won’t be until tomorrow!!!!”

Anyway, I’ll get off my soap box because it is now Christmas. Christmas songs: I love a bit of O Holy Night and Hark the Herald Angels, I even like the Sunday School rendition of Little Donkey (with the Sunday School leaders belting out the songs louder than any of the kids – most of whom are not even sure why they’re standing in front of all these smiling and teary-eyed faces). I can even put up with the lyrical and factual weirdness of some of the more traditional carols – for example In the Bleak Mid-winter. The line ‘Snow has fallen snow on snow - brilliant, paints a beautiful picture of thick snow but obviously ran out of ideas where to go next so as all good songwriters we fall back to the golden rule: If in doubt, repeat!

Snow has fallen , Snow on Snow, Snoooow on snow

Anyway, amid the usual suspects you occasionally find a gem of a new song that makes you sit up and pay attention. Every now and then among the auto-pilot Away in a Mangers you hear the hauntingly beautiful Thorn in the straw or a Mary did you Know.
It is now just over 2 weeks to Christmas and my tree is up, Chris Rea and Shakin’ Stevens are on the radio again, The Bank of England tell us we’re now out of recession (hmmm...convenient), turkey’s everywhere are saying their goodbyes to their friends and families, people’s faces are getting redder and redder from stress and overindulgence and somewhere in the craziness, among the tinsel and mince pies, if you take the time to just listen you’ll hear a small voice whispering - not, that holidays are coming but that a baby was born 2000 years ago and that one event changed everything that had gone before and since.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Wisdom of Alton - Part 1

Never make big decisions at 3am or when sitting on the toilet. Definitely never make big decisions at 3am whilst sitting on the toilet.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Er...has anyone seen Neil?

Remember me?

It’s been a while. There are many reasons why but none that I'm sure you're interested in. Anyway, I bought myself a netbook (Samsung NC10 if you're interested) with the thought that with the hour and a half commute to and from work I would be able to spend time writing blogs, emails, songs, short stories, letters to my MP and 101 other exciting things. The truth is all I've really managed to do is get through 2 seasons of The Wire, one season of Futurama and half a season on Eureka.

It’s so easy when you get on the train to plug in and switch off. My train journeys have never been so short. But I can't help thinking that I'm wasting time. Time - the resource that everyone has identified as precious.

You may think that with the arrival of this new post I have realised the error of my frivolous use commuter time and am spending it on the things I had intended to do. Regrettably you would be wrong - I'm currently at home, enjoying a moment’s peace while the wife gets my wee boy ready for bed.

Who knows what my future commutes hold, possibly a string of well thought, inspiring blog posts, a plethora of new songs, a collection of funny short stories, possibly even my much anticipated memoirs (yawn), all I know is that I have the 2nd half of season one of Eureka to watch...then the world's my creative oyster!

Sunday, 5 July 2009

I have issues - FACT!!!

Its been a while. Its been really busy. One of the things that has kept me busy is the developments with regards the worship team at the church. After months of study, prayer and lots of conversations with different members of the church we finally had a chance to get everyone together and lay out our thoughts on where we believed God was leading us. Here's the vision we shared. This provoked plenty of questions, concerns and lots of discussions. Please let me know your thoughts. I'll let you know what happened next in a post later.


For years we have been saying how much of a blessing it is that we have so many musicians and singers at the church. As we began to assess how we can develop and deepen the worship life of the fellowship, we realised that having so many people involved and almost a different band each week has unfortunately created an environment of inconsistency. The music ministry of this fellowship merits a more professional mindset.
It is for this reason we have decided to reduce the number of those involved (this has been trialled on a smaller scale with the cafe church band and has proved very successful)

For this to work it requires a few of things from the individuals involved:

Firstly is calling - a passion for leading worship - lets make this clear, it is not a passion for singing or playing an instrument, it is not even a passion for worship. It is a passion for leading God's people in worship. Just as some people are called to enter into a certain ministry it is equally so for the worship team. There needs to be a calling - a deep assurance that this is where the Lord is asking you to give your skills and your time. It would be very wrong of us to assume that just because we enjoy doing something we are therefore called to do that.

This leads us to the second point which is commitment. Without the calling, commitment becomes really difficult. Firstly we need a commitment to the fellowship, which is why we must insist that you are a member of the church here. If you are unsure if you are a member or even what it means to be a member Paul is willing to chat with you about that. In addition to that we need a commitment to pray together, a commitment to practise together, a commitment to practise and pray on our own, to learn new songs / relearn old songs, a commitment to work as a single unit - musicians, tech people and preacher as one. Be under no illusions, it will make real demands your time. There will be a requirement to attend a mid week practise where we will pray together, work on arrangements, both musical and vocal, and then practise. Bob Kauflin in his book 'Worship Matters' states that we don't practise until we get something right; we need to practise until we can't get it wrong.

This leads us nicely on to the final part which is competence. In order for the band to successfully lead the church in worship we need to establish an environment that enables the band themselves to worship. If there are singers and musicians involved who do not have a certain level of skill it can create tension and distraction within the team which ultimately takes the focus away from God. We can't be worshiping if we are worrying about if so or so is going to be singing in tune or if so or so playing in a different key or completely out time. During worship is not the place to be learning an instrument (developing and deepening existing skills yes - but not learning).

We are aware that it is important that the younger musicians continue to be encouraged and develop their skills. It is for that reason we intend we maintain a youth band and to provide appropriate opportunities for them to use their musical gifts.

It is a real blessing that we have so many musically gifted people but that doesn't mean that everyone who can sing or play an instrument should automatically be involved in the music ministry of the church.
I want to encourage you to pray and study - seek God's guidance. We can't stress enough the responsibility there is in being a part of this ministry. God demands that we give him our best. Ask yourselves the questions "Is this where God is calling me?", "Do I have the required skills?" and "Can I fully commit to this?"

Saturday, 23 May 2009

A Question of Character (or How We All Need a Regular Reality-Checkup!)

This has been a fascinating week for me. With my increased responsibilities with regards the music ministry within the church I have spent the last few months studying ‘Worship’ – trying to establish what I believe and why I believe it. I have also been looking at why we do the things we do within our church services – putting each practice through a biblical filter (not a giant bible machine – although how handy would that be!), trying to establish what is biblical truth and what is just a tradition that has been passed down through the generations.

I am totally blown away by what God has shown me. While I have been searching for practical answers to only too real problems, God has been revealing his character, drawing me closer and setting a far more important agenda - Glorifying God. Giving God glory should be the only agenda. Everything I do needs to come to that conclusion. It’s our goal, purpose, role, position or as some of our predecessors put it – the chief end of man.

Westminster Larger Catechism
Question One: “What is the chief and highest end of man?
Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever”

Now I love the second part of that statement “fully to enjoy him forever”. It reminds me of a couple of my favourite verses:

One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple”(Pslam 27v4)


Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere (Psalm 84v10)

It reminds me of the joy that I get when I worship God.

You see when we praise God, God is pleased.

he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing’ (Zeph 3 v 17).

When God is pleased he sings his love song over us (sounds a bit weird but just think about it – God, the creator of everything, the giver of life, the all-powerful, all-knowing, showers us with love – Now that is mind-blowing).

You might remember as a child when you did something for your mum or dad. You put effort into making a pencil holder, paper weight or even some buns – maybe it was because it was Mother’s Day / Father’s Day or maybe you were inspired by those overly enthusiastic presenters on Blue Peter. Any way, why did you do it? Because giving the homemade gift was a simple way to show your love. Was it perfect? No (in fact some of the baked goods I produced were downright poisonous). Were they totally pleased and excited when they saw it? YES!!! I feel it’s the same when we give our worship to God (not just our songs but in everything we do to glorify his name). It may never be perfect, he may not need it but is God pleased when we put our heart into it and give it to him simply to show him we love him? I know he is!!! And I get that same feeling when I think about my Heavenly Father smiling upon me as I did when I saw the joy on my mum or dad’s face.

We complicate things so much. My head at times is a total mess. You see, I was worried about problems and God reminded me of his promises. I was worried about my responsibilities and God reminded me of our relationship.

Talk about a reality check!!!

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Myths of Parenthood part 1

MYTH No. 1 - Kids are so much easier to manage before they can walk

There are a set of standard questions parents ask of other parents when discussing their kids. For example we have the classic - What weight was s/he? (Most appropriate just after the baby is born - not so appropriate when discussing potty training!). Then we come to probably the most common question in baby small talk history - Who does s/he look like? It’s really funny because everybody sees something different. For example my wee boy Callum who at the weekend had my eyes, today has Steph's eyes! When asked this question I like to throw in a few curve balls - "He has Yoda's face, Abraham Lincoln's nose and Ben Afleck's eyebrows".

To me it’s all a bit weird, like there is some desperate need to see some part of yourself in your offspring. Frankly if Callum looks nothing like me I'll consider it a blessing for the wee man - he dodged a massive bullet there!!!

Anyway, enough false self-deprecation, the point is, kids change so much in such a short space of time. For example 2 weeks ago Callum could hardly walk the length of himself then almost overnight he was up, up and away!

Before this momentous occasion occurred we were inundated with the comment “Enjoy this time before they can walk cause afterwards it’s a nightmare, they just get into everything!” It’s a total myth people!!! My life just got sooooooo much easier. He was already into everything anyway. From the moment he learned how to roll to get where he wanted (this later developed into lightning fast 4-limb drive crawling) he was seeking out danger in all its forms. His determination to kill himself has been unprecedented. We had his unwavering pursuit of sticking electrical things in his mouth; his resolute quest to throw himself down the stairs and his favourite game “What happens when I hit my head against this object?”

Before you phone the social worker, super dad has prevented most major incidents from happening.

Anyway, now he can walk I no longer have to carry him everywhere. He wants to walk. It’s brilliant – that’s 2 stone less I have to worry about. I have enough weight of my own. Plus he’s getting some really funky dance moves (usually to the Mr Men theme tune or Girls Aloud on the radio – he gets that from his mum, honest). Most entertaining.

That’s enough change though for now. He’s already growing up way to fast. I just want him to stay this age for at least a few more years….please!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

More challenges than you can shake a stick at

I'm really in the thick of things now. My new responsibilities as Worship Coordinator are unravelling themselves as each day passes. Its really exciting. I love a challenge and this is definitely my biggest yet. Having attended my first church council meeting this week I feel it is now official (technically it's not official until September - but that's just a administrative technicality).

The work also began last week in converting the church sports hall into our new worship space. You see we've out-grown the current church building and with the current global financial mess the new church could be a few years away.

Challenge 1 : How can you turn a barn like sports hall into an appropriate space for worship?

One word 'Carpet'. Okay, that's not going to quite do it but its a great start. There is an outstanding team of experts assembled (and me). Building and electrical experts, decor design geniuses and a techie wizard (not literally a wizard mind you, especially now he's shaved his beard off, but he knows his Peavey from his Bose. If it has a button, a knob or a flashing light, he knows what it does). My input so far his been a lot of nodding in agreement and telling them how big a platform we needed for the band. As has been established in the previous post I have not been asked to do any rewiring! God willing the grand opening of the hall will be the end of August.

Challenge 2 : How do you manage a nearly 50 person strong music team?

Answers on a postcard please!!!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

DIY - The Underated Art Form

There's a common theme running through my DIY history. My brother , mother and definitely my wife can confirm this for you (if you ever happen to be chatting to any of them). I never quite finish a job. Now I'm not talking about those crazies you see on the DIY shows who have destroyed several rooms of their houses because they thought it would be cheaper to re-wire the house themselves - only to find out that the A6 leaflet they picked up from B&Q entitled "Everything You Need to Know About Re-wiring Your House" turned out not to have all the answers.

I know my limitations. Will maybe i don't, but I always assess any potential new projects by asking one simple question: Could it kill me? If the answer is 'No', then I'll give it a go. If the answer is 'Yes', then its time to call in the professionals.

Flatpack is my speciality (I know that's hardly DIY but give me a break). To give you a clearer picture here's some of my limitation: Does it require me to fit into small spaces? Then give someone else a call; Does the job require the use of two or more tools? Er...pass; Will it take longer than 20 mins? Then I'll probably not finish it.

Are you getting the picture. Just to make it crystal clear I tried to paint the ceiling of my bedroom. I was maybe 17/18 at the time. I got half-way across when I got bored. I had a line across the ceiling for years. Another time I tried to change a light switch once. I carefully read the instructions. Red (live), Brown (neutral) and Green/Yellow wire (earth) check! I took out the fuse (less chance of death that way), looked for my coloured wires and found 2 red wires and one black wire!!!!!! What??? ABORT ABORT!!!!

Anyway the wife has come up with the perfect solution - ask my brother

Monday, 16 March 2009

The 15 Year Old School Jotter

This is a weird week for me. I've been involved in Youth work for nearly 15 years - almost half of my life. I started running my first youth club with friends when we were still youths ourselves, under the watchful eye of our old youth leader. This Sunday I will be leaving that chapter behind - possibly for just a while but quite possibly forever. Making big changes like this often spark episodes of reflection. Images and stories from the past come to the front of our minds as we think back. There are some brilliant stories I could tell you but I'd be here all night.

This change has been coming for over well over a year now. With my pursuit of Rock Stardom (see previous post) out of the window, my responsibilities had been divided between youthwork and worship - to the detriment of them both. I'm a firm believer that if you're going to do something, do it right. To do that, a decision had to be made as to which I should focus my time on. You see Youthwork for me is comfortable - its the old pair of shoes or that baggy jumper. Over the years I've had most situations thrown at me and I've survived - we have a history, I've grown up with youth work. Worship on the other hand is the new pair of boots I haven't quite worn in yet. There are many more blisters to come before they get comfortable!

My old youth leader Sheila died a few months ago. She was not only a great friend and teacher but an amazing example of how a life should be lived. She has taught me so much over the years. I think I was 8 years old when I first met her. She was my primary 3 teacher. She then went on to be my SU leader; then as we went to secondary school our youth leader; after I committed my life to Christ she took me to her church and became my bible class leader; she taught me piano for 5 years, helping me understand how music works; she bought my first band their first drum kit (ha , the church never saw that one coming!!!). She let Steph and I live in her house for weeks when we had sold our house and needed a place to stay before we moved to Ireland. Each step of the way she would share her faith with us - not preaching it, not ramming it down our throats but by LIVING it!!! I will really miss her and hope that I can live up to her example.

Wow, I'm crying (again!!!). Anyway why bring that up? Over the last few weeks a mutual friend has had the hard task of going through all of Sheila’s things and has been sending me packages of random stuff that Sheila has kept over the years. She kept everything! They include lots of photos, drawings, and letters.

In the last package I got there was an old school jotter. Sheila had given us the book to record the minutes of the meetings we had about the new Youth Club we were setting up - 15 years ago! Amazing!! It feels as if it has all come full circle. I'm back there again, a teenager, excited and scared about how I've landed with this responsibility - yet burning with a desire to encourage, teach and share God's love just as Sheila had with us.

Although I move away from youthwork I take with me, into my worship, that same excitement, fear and desire. Here's to the next 15 years!!!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

All is Forgiven Alan Hanson (or The Problem With Not Having Sky Sports)

Tonight I was reduced to listening to Arsenal win a penalty shootout in the Champions League on 5 Live. I'm sorry but Mark "Brighty" Bright should not be allowed near any game with a microphone!!! The nonsense he was coming out with tonight was totally winding me up.

I then watched the highlights on RTE (Irish telly). It was like watching the 2 old boys from the Muppet Show (you know the ones who heckle from the balcony). Alan Hanson all is forgiven

Running is not an option

Interesting times at the moment in N. Ireland. There is so much tension in the air. The murders in recent days have brought back terrible memories for many people. Echoes from yesterday emerging from the shadows to haunt a country once more.

I knew nothing about "The Troubles" when I moved over here from Edinburgh 8 years ago. The peace process well underway by then. I don't fully understand what has gone on before. I've heard lots of stories - but hearing stories and living on the streets where it was all happening is a completely different thing. So for that reason I have only one comment....there is always hope.

Today I took my place with thousands of other residents of Northern Ireland, from all parts of the country, from all backgrounds (both political and religious), in a moment of silent demonstration outside the city hall in Belfast. I was quite moved by the feeling of unity and the sense of hope.

My brother has asked me several times this week when I'm moving back to Edinburgh but for me, running away is not an option. So as I did this afternoon I choose to stand with my neighbours without any fear of what might happen or who will do what and shout in a loud voice "there is always hope!"

Thursday, 26 February 2009

The Trouble With Being a Wannabe Rock Star

I feel I have not been as committed to the worship (or my role in the worship life of the church) as my outward, or public, self has been declaring.

This is a new thought.

It hit me yesterday on the train home from work. Up until this point I had convinced myself that I was fully committed. I had discussed the subject of taking on more responsibility with regards the worship in the church with close friends and church leaders. I had been praying about it, studying the bible and reading lots of books (or at times just parts of books – I’m not great at finishing them). Decisions were made and outwardly I was Mr Commitment, Mr Passion-for-worship, Mr Lead-by-God-to-lead-worship – when secretly, unbeknown to even me, I was holding back.

Let me try and explain. In my mind I’ve held on to the idea that I will one day be a rock star. I visualise myself standing on a stage in front of thousands of people who are all there to see me; the singing along to every song, belting each syllable back at me with love and admiration. I’ve even seen my face on the front covers of Rolling Stone, NME, Q or even Smash hits (when I was a wee boy); playing live for Jools Holland or Jo Whiley; the next gig was always the gig where I was going to be discovered as a musical genius – each unfamiliar face was a A&R person at a big record label waiting to raise me up as the new rock god!!!

So what happened?

Lots of things - is the short answer. After much soul searching and a couple of MASSIVE signs from God I realised that I needed to put my wannabe rock star antics to bed and transfer my energy into trekking across the relatively unknown land of worship.

So we finally get to what happened yesterday to shake me (sorry about the delay).

Well I bumped into a musician and fellow songwriter friend I’d done several gigs with on the folk scene in Northern Ireland. We hadn’t seen each other for quite a while and naturally our short conversation was dominated with the subject of music. I asked her if she had been up to much (she was holding a 4 month old baby – so kind of already knew the answer). She then reciprocated and asked me the same question. Here was my moment to share what God had been doing in my life and how I’d been filled this amazing passion for worship and leading God’s people in worship. How I feel lead to pour out my heart in worship whenever I pick up my guitar these days. My response…please do not think any less of me…was two words….two simple words that when out of my mouth crushed me; I could have sworn I heard a cock crowing in the distance; I could see the entire congregation of the church in front of me with their head in their hands in disbelief; I could see Nelson from The Simpsons pointing at me saying “Ha ha”. I said:

“Nothing much”

Arghhhhhhhh!!!! It was that moment I realised I hadn’t committed myself to anything. I was still standing with a foot in each boat – with the boats slowly drifting apart.

The rock star is dead, the servant has risen and I will sing to the Lord a new song.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

A need to write.

I've been reading peoples blogs for years and have often wondered what would compel someone to pour out random warbling online for anyone to see; often deeply personal things or frequently pointless observations with the occasional heartbreaking/ uplifting story thrown in for good measure.

I still don't have an answer to why they do it - maybe that should now be why WE do it.

The need to write has just hit me. There's plenty I want to put down. In many ways I'm not writing for anyone else other than me. If people read this and enjoy it, or even hate it, that’s just fine with me. If no one ever reads this I will still be happy with it.

Why the title "Confessions of a Confused Worship Leader"? It's what has sparked this whole thing off. The last 3 or 4 years have been completely life changing for me. I feel that there have been a series of specific events that have lead me to where I am now. If you have stumbled across this blog and you hope to find answers then I'm afraid you may be disappointed. I am drowning in questions and the answers I get to my questions in themselves create more questions. I hope to share some of this journey in the bog over the next few months and in turn share some of my questions.

All you need to know just now is that through God’s divine planning I find myself, 32 years of age and a worship leader at the local Methodist church in Richhill, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland and I'm totally and utterly confused about almost everything.