Book Review: “Worship Essentials” by Mike Harland

Photo by Jefferson Santos on Unsplash

How can a worship leader in today’s worship music landscape lead effectively and in a Christ-like manner? The past few decades have been characterized as the “worship wars,” as older styles of worship (think hymns, organs, and hymnals) and their proponents clashed with advocates of newer styles (think guitars, projectors, drums, and…*grimace* fog machines). Is there a set of core principles, convictions, and best practices that a worship leader can focus on in their pursuit to lead their teams and their churches in worshiping the Lord?

In “Worship Essentials,” Mike Harland argues that yes, there is.

With a mix of principles from Scripture, observations, and lessons learned over the past few decades of worship ministry experience, Harland contends that we can move past “worship wars” if we focus on telling the biblical story, ensuring our ultimate goal is producing mature disciples, engaging the church body effectively in our worship, and aspiring towards excellence and purpose.

As a minister of music myself, I found Harland’s advice and concerns to be encouraging, helpful, humble, and challenging. Harland exhorts the music leaders in a church to lead their teams well, partner with the preaching pastor in planning and leading the worship services (as worship is more than just the music we sing), focus on producing disciples in the pews, desegregate “traditional” and “contemporary” services, aim for excellence without distracting from God’s glory, and more!

After finishing the book, I was left with helpful theological, musical, practical, and spiritual applications. It’s by no means a perfect book—for instance, it was a tad too conversational in tone at points for me and it seemed like he repeated himself in a few different places unintentionally—but I was edified and would encourage anyone looking for resources to help them shepherd those whom God has entrusted to them to lead in this area to make their way through “Worship Essentials.”

4 stars out of 5

Mike Harland. Worship Essentials. B&H Publishing Group, 2018. 176 pp. Paperback. $16.99.

Thanks to B&H Bloggers for the review copy, which I received for free in exchange for an impartial review!

Quoteworthy: Insults from the Pews

I’m trying to pass along things I find interesting, funny, or challenging in what I’m reading. In that spirit, here’s a humorous anecdote passed on by John Stott in Basic Christian Leadership:

“A story is told of Joseph Parker, who occupied the pulpit of the City Temple in London when C. H. Spurgeon was preaching in the Metropolitan Tabernacle. One day, when Parker was climbing the steps to his pulpit, a lady in the gallery threw a piece of paper at him. He picked it up and read it. It contained only one word: ‘Fool!’ Parker began his sermon with these words: ‘I have received many anonymous letters in my life. Previously they have been a text without a signature. Today for the first time I have received a signature without a text!'”


What about you? Ever seen something like this happen or heard something similar?

Book Review: “The Character of Leadership” by Jeff Iorg

“Your talent and giftedness as a leader have the potential to take you farther than your character can sustain you. That ought to scare you.” -Andy Stanley

Character matters for leaders. The above quote alludes to the fact that many times what brings down Christian leaders is not so much that they could not do their jobs well or competently but rather that they did not have the requisite character to do their job with integrity. Right now you can probably name three or four prominent Evangelical leaders who have had their ministries crash and burn around them THIS YEAR. Character is crucial.

Jeff Iorg begins his book The Character of Leadership by saying “In my twenties, I was determined to change the world. In my thirties, I tried to reform the church. In my early forties, I discovered I was the problem” (p. 1). Dr. Iorg has all the right experience to write a book on this subject: he was a pastor for many years (including planting a successful church in the Pacific Northwest), a denominational leader for the Southern Baptist Convention, and currently is the president of Golden Gate Baptist Seminary [1]. But he has also learned many leadership and character issues the hard way and seeks to pass on what he has learned in these decades of experience.

This is not a book about how to DO leadership. It is about how to BE a leader. (p. 2)

Dr. Iorg shares that the main ways he has seen God shape himself and other leaders has been using 1) the Bible 2) the leader’s circumstances and 3) disciplined discernment. “God is committed to shaping you into the image of Jesus. He uses his Word to set the standard and allows circumstances to turn up the heat. Discernment, asking the right question and allowing enough time to pass for perspective to reveal God’s purpose, is essential to understanding what God is doing” (p. 17).

How then does Dr. Iorg approach the subject? And does he succeed in his approach?

Continue reading

Book Review: John Maxwell’s “The Complete 101 Collection”


If John Maxwell is associated with just one thing, it’s leadership. This volume from Thomas Nelson collects his 101 series. As the preface states:

We’ve cherry-picked the essentials in subjects such as leadership, attitude, relationships, teamwork, and mentoring and put them into a format that is easy to read. And now for the first time, we’ve combined all six of the 101 books in one volume. (vii-viii)

(The other topics covered are self-improvementsuccess, and equipping)

Think of this as the “general education” part of a leadership education. Those looking for depth or exhaustive treatments of these topics should look to Maxwell’s other books. And those who already have several or all of these volumes already won’t necessarily want to repurchase them.

But if you’re looking for a one-stop-shop sort of approach to the basics of leadership, this is the book for you! The hardcover edition is a quality book that is attractively packaged and yet not bulky or unwieldy. Both a consult-as-needed reference book approach and a read-cover-to-cover would work here depending on your needs and exposure to the material.

Because it accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, The Complete 101 Collection gets

5 stars out of 5

John C. Maxwell, The Complete 101 CollectionNashville, Thomas Nelson, 2010. 624 pp. Hardcover.

Buy it: Amazon

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for the review copy!

Book Review: “The Leadership Handbook” by John Maxwell


I suspect that I am like many others who, upon hearing the mention of his name, would immediately associate John Maxwell with the topic of “leadership.” The classic and most well-known of his books would (I assume) be “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.” But simply type his name into amazon’s search function and you’ll see that that is not anywhere close to the last book that he wrote on the subject. Maxwell’s output on the subject is voluminous and extensive, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect with this book, “The Leadership Handbook.” What would he have to say on the subject that he hadn’t said some other way in some other book? What fresh insights are there to be gleaned here?

Perhaps it was my admittedly mixed expectations for the book, but the further I got into the book the more that I found myself enjoying, learning from, and appreciating it. Maxwell himself sums up what differentiates this book from many of his previous ones on page 247, where he says:

You’ll notice that there has been a significant shift in my thinking…Now, instead of focusing on who I am to become, my focus is on other people…I want to add value to leaders who will multiply value to others.


John Maxwell has gone from wanting to be a great leader himself to wanting to teach others how to be great leaders to wanting to teach others how to teach others how to be great leaders. Thus he suggests two ways of reading the book. The first is to read a chapter a week, spending time to meditate on the lessons and application questions in each chapter. The second is to take 52 weeks to go through the book, spending one week to go over a chapter yourself and then taking the next week to teach that lesson to whoever it is that you are currently mentoring. Each chapter has a “Mentorship Moment” at the end to assist in this process.

In “The Leadership Handbook,” Maxwell seems to be catching sight of the same kind of leadership and discipleship that both Jesus (“Go and make disciples…teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you” […by inference including making disciples]) and Paul (“and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also”) modeled and taught.

Finally, in addition to teaching leadership from his successes, Maxwell teaches from his failures. His honesty about the role that failure has in the growth of a leader is admirable and much needed.

So what’s the verdict?  I see this book functioning exactly as it’s billed: as a handbook to slowly work through, refer to, and learn from as leaders seek to grow personally and pass their lessons on to the leaders they are training up themselves. I know that I personally have several immediate applications from it and also that I’ll be returning to it often as a refresher and reminder.

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

 Disclaimer: BookLook Bloggers has provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.

An Expanded Vision for Worship


Last week Kevin DeYoung sent out a tweet that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Most recently it came to mind during worship at church on Sunday. The tweet in question was this:

kevin deyoung tweet


For those that don’t know, I’ve led worship for college ministries for the past six years and worship is a passion of mine. I’ve always tried to pick the songs I led with care and attentiveness to what those in the group might need and where the Holy Spirit might be leading.

This tweet crashed into me like a load of bricks. I was alternating between tearing up at the beautiful picture of praises lifted up in desperate faith around a hospital bed and searching my memory for what songs that I’d led over the years might fit this description to a conviction to lead differently in the future whenever opportunities present themselves.

Because, you see, all leadership involves vision (or a lack thereof).  post-tbird And while leading worship has the big, grand object of leading a people into an encounter with the Almighty God in a specific moment, we shouldn’t neglect practical considerations and vision of teaching and equipping either.

Worship leaders, pastors, parents: are we equipping people to worship alone in the valleys as well as gathered together in the mountaintops? Are we equipping people to encounter and worship God in the quiet, desperate moments beside sick loved ones where there’s no guitar within reach and no powerpoint as well as during loud, full-band celebration services? I pray that we all are and that it starts with me.


What songs that your family or church taught and sings fit this description? Are they all hymns or are there contemporary songs that fit the bill too? Sound off in the comments-I’d love to discuss and develop this more!