david santistevan


The Top 10 Worship Songs I Led This Year

I thought it would be helpful to list my favorite songs from this past year. All of these are great and come highly recommended. There were a handful of other songs we did but these stand out in my mind (in no particular order).

1. Our God

2. Forever Reign

3. Christ is Risen

4. Healer

5. Holding Nothing Back

6. How He Loves

7. With Everything

8. No One Higher/The Stand

9. Yahweh

10. Glory to God Forever

What favorite songs did you do in 2010?


December 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, Worship | Leave a comment

How Close Should Sunday Morning Worship Reflect the Recordings?

Over the years as I’ve talked to many worship leaders, I have encountered different approaches to Sunday morning worship – some who are vehemently opposed to structure and click tracks and arrangments and others who have their entire worship set planned to the ‘T’ without much wiggle room.

One of the questions that has come up time and time again is how close should Sunday morning worship resemble the recordings? I mean if Chris Tomlin, Jesus Culture, and Hillsong do it it’s gotta be from God’s rulebook, right? Well, maybe not God’s rulebook. But it can be helpful to use what others have done.

I like to strike a healthy balance between personal arrangements, recorded arrangements, and the spontaneous.

Here’s my thoughts:


As a busy worship leader, this is great. You don’t have to personally and creatively arrange every single song because someone has already done that work. Just listen in, take notes, and teach. It’s nice to use what they’ve done and build upon it.


Young musicians are not typically honest about how bad they are. I don’t know what it is but it’s easy for we musicians to get an inflated view of ourselves. We easily blame external factors (can’t hear, can’t see the music, use the “it’s OK I’ve got it” comment, etc.) for our mistakes. Maturity is learning to admit when you mess up (maybe I should save this for another post :))Holding young musicians accountable to learning and playing their part of a recorded song teaches them a much needed discipline if they want to be good musicians.


At my church we typically do four songs for our main worship set. Not all four of those songs are sequenced and perfectly arranged. I usually leave one or one and a half for flowing purposes and ‘see where it goes’. This keeps the worship time from becoming too mechanical. Listen in to the Holy Spirit and follow Him where he is going.

Worship Leaders: what are your thoughts on the “do it like the recording” debate?

December 15, 2010 Posted by | Worship, Worship Leaders | 4 Comments

Worship: Consume or Be Consumed?

Worship music has become such an industry. It makes money. It dominates Christian radio. We get warm fuzzies when we hear our favorite artist singing our favorite song.

This is can be good, but I also think it spoils us for our local churches. Instead of pursuing God, we listen for our favorite songs. We view the worship time as a  3 song warm-up more than an encounter with the living God. If the worship leader does our favorite song, we will pump our fists and get into it.

But what if it never happens? How do we re-capture the essence of worship in a massive industry of worship consumerism?

I once heard Louie Giglio say that instead of consuming worship, we should be consumed by worship. What if you approached every service at church with an expectation to be consumed by the greatness of God? That may sound scary to you.

All I’m saying is that we be God-centered rather than song-centered; that we approach weekend services with expectation rather than routine. To the congregation’s credit, a good worship leader should skillfully help you do this. But that doesn’t leave you without responsibility.

Come be consumed by worship rather than consuming songs.

Question: how do you prepare your heart for true worship? What are some ways we can re-capture true worship in such a ‘consumer’ industry? I dare you to leave a comment 🙂

December 13, 2010 Posted by | Worship | Leave a comment

11 Questions Every Worship Team Member Should Ask

In a previous post I talked about questions worship leaders should be asking. Here are some questions if you’re part of a worship team:

Am I listening to the other musicians or lost in my own world?

Is my heart right with God?

Do I hold my ideas loosely and submit to the worship leader?

Do I speak and play with a spirit of humility?

Am I constantly learning or do I pretend to know it all?

What if I prayed for an hour before I came to play with the worship team?

What if I expected God to move in power as we worship?

Do I show up prepared and on time?

Am I contributing to the team spiritually and emotionally or just musically?

What if I encouraged the other members of the band?

Am I invested in my local church or is it just a gig?

December 2, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized, Worship | 6 Comments

How to Practice Better – Worship Leading

In a previous post I talked about how important practice is. But not just practice…deliberate practice – practicing those things that will make you more effective at what you do.

When we think practicing we typically think of pianists and football players. But what about something like worship leading? How do we practice that? Yea, I could try to lead worship more often but what about those times when I’m by myself?

What are some deliberate things I can do to become a better worship leader?

1. Listen Deeply

If you are a worship leader you should be listening to other worship leaders. But you are not just a casual listener. You must become a listening nerd 🙂 This is not just background noise. Listen deeply. Analyze it. Write down what different worship leaders do: How they interact with a congregation, what songs they do, how they arrange, how they navigate spontaneous moments, how they interact with the band, etc.

2. Read

In a previous post I recommended my favorite books on worship leading. Go read. It’s important to not only learn the practicalities of worship leading but also expand your view of God. Shameless plug: also, reading blogs like this one will help you gain knowledge and stay focused. This is a fantastic resource as well.

3. Sing all the time

if you are a vocal worship leader, don’t save all your singing for rehearsal and Sunday morning. You need to exercise that muscle. I’ve heard it said that leading worship is one of the toughest things on your voice. You sing, shout, and talk, all while pushing hard. Seek to daily strengthen your voice by singing in the car, at home, & on airplanes (maybe not that one).

4. Look for places to lead

Don’t wait for pastors to come to you, asking to lead worship. Make it happen in ‘smaller places’. Grab your friends and worship. Strong Christians love to worship. So go do it. Often.

5. Practice continual prayer

How do you expect to hear God’s voice when your leading worship if you’re not listening in the everyday? Live a continual posture of, “God, what are you doing? How can I accomplish your purpose today?” You’ll be surprised what opportunities and divine appointments will arise because of this.

6. Practice loving people

If you don’t like people, worship leading will be frustrating for you. It’s all about people. It’s all about connecting. It’s all about a journey with others. This may seem abstract but it’s definitely something you can practice. Engage in conversation. Smile. Pray for others. Connect. You’ll see a huge difference on stage if you’re living this everyday.

7. Listen to your pastor

When your pastor preaches, listen to what he says. Write it down. Internalize the DNA of your church. Make it yours. Even if he’s not a musician and doesn’t know as much as you do, respect the vision God has given him and implement it with all you’ve got. Practice it.

Anything that I missed? Help me out. How can I practice as a worship leader?

November 24, 2010 Posted by | Worship, Worship Leaders | 5 Comments

10 Tips For Great Arranging

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Ever been in a worship team situation where all you hear is a mess of noise? Each musician in the band seems to be the captain of their own planet, ignoring the rotation of all the others. This is all too common for musicians to show off what they can do instead of submitting to what a song really needs. Since I’ve already addressed the need for both preparation and spontaneity, I want to focus on one very important aspect of preparation; and that is the arranged song.

Here are some things that I think through as I arrange songs:

  1. Assess what instruments I have to work with
  2. Appoint deliberate entrances & exits for each instrument
  3. Allow the song to breathe – rarely should every instrument be ‘full-out’ at the same time
  4. Make sure BGV’s are BGV’s
  5. Experiment with the bass ‘dropping out’ occasionally (Btw, visit my friend Rob’s site for insight)
  6. Utilize piano for lead lines instead of electric guitar occasionally
  7. Familiarize yourself with loops & software instruments (I use the brilliant stuff from these guys)
  8. Set each instrument part in its proper frequency range
  9. Teach your musicians to gradually add as they go
  10. Experiment with fresh sounds – this could include loops, but also a detuned guitar, mandolin, harmonica, synths, percussion, etc. Anything you’re not used to.

Though not revolutionary, if you apply these tips your worship team will sound better, have more fun, and create more powerful music. The power of music is really all about what you don’t play.

Arrangers, what did I miss? What do you do to create great arrangements?

November 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, Worship | 4 Comments

What is the Primary Purpose of Corporate Worship?

I’m curious to know what your thoughts are on corporate worship. What is the primary purpose of us gathering together to sing?

Do we gather primarily to sing and align our hearts with truth?

Do we gather primarily to experience the breakthrough power of the Holy Spirit?

Do we gather primarily to sing well performed worship songs?

Do we gather primarily because we like the worship leader?

Do we gather primarily to give our praise to God?

Do we gather primarily to receive blessings from God?

I’d love some comments here. Where do you stand when it comes to corporate worship?

November 12, 2010 Posted by | Worship, Worship Leaders | 6 Comments

5 Ways to Improve How You Lead Spontaneous Worship

Part of what makes a time of congregational worship alive and fresh is the spontaneous. It’s the moments in a service where we don’t just ‘read the script’ but actually engage with God in the moment. Imagine a guy taking a girl on a first date. They both get dressed up and hit up the nicest restaurant in town. This guy is even wearing a bow tie. Come on people…a flippin’ bow tie. They sit down at the table ready to engage in romantic conversations and the guy pulls out his new iPad. Instead of gazing in her eyes and speaking from his heart, he proceeds to read a script he’s written. He never looks up to hear her heart, listen to her speak, or veer from the ‘plan’. Seems ridiculous, right?

Without spontaneous aspects to our worship services, our worship of God can seem like this. We don’t stop to listen to what He has to say. We don’t allow a fresh song to arise from our hearts in the moment. We just read the script.

In this post I’d like to offer some suggestions on how you as a worship leader can improve how you lead in the spontaneous.

  • Know your congregation – before you take the dive into spontaneous waters it’s wise to know who you’re leading. Are they new believers who will have no idea what’s going on? If so, do it in such a way that they’ll understand and stay with you. If it’s a group of seasoned worshipers, you could probably get away with long stretches of spontaneous worship & intercession. Takeaway: always make sure the people are with you.
  • Know the proper timing – unless God audibly gives you direction, it’s probably not wise to open a service with a spontaneous tribal chant in tongues or a prophetic rebuke. Utilize good songs to engage people and listen and look for the right time (you probably never want to utilize the prophetic rebuke :))
  • Practice by yourself – don’t expect to just be good at this right away. There are two ways you can practice by yourself: practice listening to the Holy Spirit and practice singing spontaneous songs. I am personally always singing my prayers. Constantly. I probably sing prayers more than I speak them. Also, the more you get accustomed to the Holy Spirit’s voice in your personal life, the more likely you will hear Him as you lead worship. Listen as your praying at home, at the grocery store, walking through the mall, in a restaurant. Always tune your antennae.
  • Practice in a small group – after you practice by yourself, find a small group and practice there. There’s less at stake if you mess up by yourself or in a small group of trusted friends.
  • Just say it – sometimes all you need to do is just step out. Just say what you feel God is saying. Just lead where you feel God is leading. Don’t cue up the shofar lady and shout ‘thus saith the Lord Christ Almighty’. Just be yourself. Gently say and lead where God is moving and wait. This can lead to breakthrough in worship.

Worship Leaders: did I cover everything here? What would you add to the list?

November 4, 2010 Posted by | Worship, Worship Leaders | 2 Comments

The Lost Discipline of Personal Worship

I’ve been thinking about the importance of a personal worship time. My hunch is that we just don’t carve the time for it because, in our fast paced culture, our minds are trained to constantly process information. From checking facebook, to updating Twitter, to checking the news, to listening to a few podcasts, we feel the need to stay occupied and connected.

But God calls us to rest. He calls us to worship. Has personal worship become a lost discipline? Has it been replaced with an onslaught of media?


Perhaps it has. But I would love to offer some suggestions for taking it back. If you want your heart to be spiritually alive, you need to worship God…on your own.

But what does one do if there’s no worship leader, no congregation, and no light show?

Glad you asked.

  1. Carve out a few minutes – while I love the idea of ‘worshiping on your way to work’ or ‘sing while you do the dishes’, I think it’s important to have times dedicated to being with Jesus. Try once a week for now and gradually build up to more.
  2. Get alone – I’m always distracted if someone is in the room. Even if they’re being quiet, it’s difficult for me to really ‘let go’ because I’m always thinking about that person.
  3. Move around – this has been incredibly helpful to me. I typically like to worship in the early mornings. If I don’t pace, I’m tempted to fall asleep. Put on some good worship music, or my preference, great ambient/instrumental music and begin to worship.
  4. Read Scripture out loud – this is what really gets me going. If I’m being honest, sometimes I just don’t know what to say or pray so I’ll open the Psalms, read a verse, and then close my eyes and worship God based on that particular verse. It’s amazing to worship God with the Bible. It can give voice to a distracted heart like mine.

This will not always ‘feel’ emotionally charged like a Chris Tomlin concert in the XCel Energy Center. But it is always time well spent because the more you do this the more inclined you are to praise God when difficulties arise. You’re re-capturing the lost discipline of personal worship.

Would you add anything? What do you do in your personal worship times?

October 27, 2010 Posted by | Worship | 3 Comments

The 3 Levels of Sunday Morning Worshipers

Ever been there? You’re in a worship service. The worship leader is going at it, musicians are rocking out, and yet there seems to be zero connection between what is happening on stage and what is happening in the crowd. What is the problem?

Let me just say that this is normal, to a certain extent (sometimes the worship leader is just plain insensitive). However, in a healthy congregation there will always be a mix of the pros, the amateurs, and the newbies. Here’s what I mean:

  • THE PRO – the pro’s are the worship leader’s best friend. You could start singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with flute, mandolin, and saxophone and their hands are raised high (almost looks like their stretching), they’re swaying to the beat, clapping, and singing at the top of their lungs. Anytime the worship leader says something they offer the ‘spiritual grunt’ or a hearty ‘Amen’. Beautiful.
  • THE AMATEUR – amateur worshipers love Jesus but are still getting used to the corporate sing-a-long. When they raise their hands it’s more of a “cup-my-hands-but-leave-them-at-my-side” sort of thing. They’ll also put in the occasional clap but it probably won’t last for more than 20 seconds.
  • THE NEWBIE – if you’re a pro, put on the ‘newbie’ shoes for a second. These are typically people who have not come to faith in Christ yet. Imagine stepping into a room with people you don’t know, with songs you don’t know, and being asked to participate. Kinda weird. These people either stand still or sit or have many sudden urges to use the restroom throughout the worship service.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the humor. But in all honesty, a great church will have a mix of these people because a great church is reaching the lost and is filled with people at a different point on the same journey. So if you have a lot of amateurs and newbies, pray that they grow into a pro and lead by example.


October 21, 2010 Posted by | Worship | 2 Comments

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