Most worship leaders want to achieve high levels of musical excellence without skimping on authenticity and spirituality. We want high-quality music without sacrificing heart. But how can we cultivate both without leaning too heavily towards one or the other? In this episode, I talk with BJ Putnam from Bethany MSC about how they’ve cultivated high levels of musical excellence while still maintaining a heart of true, passionate worship.

We cover topics like resourcing the team, running a vocal rehearsal, coaching conversations, investing in relationships, team nights, tips for flowing spontaneously, and more!

Enjoy the convo, and if you love it, share it with a friend who needs to hear it.

https://bethanymsc.com

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Transcript

Talking about excellence.

I’m the first guy to be like, Let’s rehearse this thing 100 times.

Making sure that rehearsal is great and that you’re working out parts,

set you up for success to have the flow stuff.

Everybody wants to flow, right?

I feel like

spending time rehearsing songs, rehearsing sets, getting them polished,

actually lifts the burden of thinking so much about the technical side to,

I’m just going to focus on hearing from the Lord, versus like, Man,

I don’t really know what’s happening in this progression.

Welcome to the Worship Ministry Training podcast, a monthly podcast for worship

leaders who are serious about growing in their craft and calling.

My name is Alex, fellow worship leader.

Super stoked you’re here.

And if you’re a new listener, I’m going to encourage you to hit

that subscribe button because every single month I’m going to give you helpful,

practical guidance that you can immediately implement into your ministry.

Hit that subscribe button and then go back through the past nine years of episodes

and binge listen your way to a healthier ministry.

If you’re someone who is really serious about growing as a worship leader,

I’m going to point you to the Worship Ministry Training Academy.

What is the academy?

It’s an online training platform that will

give you everything you need to build a thriving worship ministry.

You’ll get 10 in-depth courses on topics

like set building, team building, musical excellence, vocal technique, and more.

You’ll get live monthly training workshops on topics that are relevant to you.

You’ll get exclusive expert interviews

with some of the best worship leaders in the world.

You’ll get done for you,

Ministry admin systems and audition process, onboarding documents,

team training materials, and even team discipleship materials.

We will take care of you so you can focus on leading your team.

If that sounds like something that would be of help to you,

you can try the Worship Ministry Training Academy

for just one dollar by going to worshipministrytraining.

Com. Sign up today for your one dollar trial,

and I hope to see you inside of the academy.

All right, let’s get into today’s episode.

Hello, beautiful WMT fam.

Don’t mind my frogy voice.

It is still Alex.

Today, we are talking about balancing musical excellence and authenticity.

And I know for many of us Worship Leaders,

that is the goal, is that we would have very high levels of musical excellence

without skimping on the authenticity and the heart and the spirituality.

And we’re going to be talking about that today because I am going to be

interviewing someone from Bethany Music, a church out in Baton Rouge.

And when I was first sent links to their

music, I checked it out and I was really struck by a few things,

just how high quality their songwriting was, their stellar production,

and just the really high bar of arranging and musicality.

And yet there was this really authentic and passionate platform presence.

And everyone on the stage really seemed

to be truly engaged and worshipping from their heart.

And so I’m excited to welcome B. J.

Putnam onto the podcast to do some behind-the-scenes digging on what it is

they’ve been doing over the last few years to get to that high level of musicality

and excellence without skimping on the authenticity.

Let’s welcome B. J.

To the podcast. Hello, BJ.

How are you? What’s up, man?

I’m good. It’s good to meet you.

Good to have you on.

This is the first time we’ve connected,

so excited to get to know a little bit more about you and your story.

Before you tell our listeners about

yourself and the church, just for those who are watching live,

again, you can interact with us live if you are using the actual YouTube channel.

So go ahead and go there and you can comment and you can ask questions.

And we are going to have a short time of Q&A at the end with B.

J. Just for the academy students.

Make sure you’re typing those questions in or saving them for the end.

But B.

J, tell us a little bit about Bethany and about your role there and anything

else that our listeners would need to know about you.

Yeah.

So Bethany Church is, obviously, we’re in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

They’re Five campuses across the state, one in New Orleans, one in Homa,

and then there’s three campuses closer here in Baton Rouge.

My family and I, we moved here three years ago.

I’ve known Pastor Jonathan Stocksdale for about 15 years.

Around 2020, I was travelling here once a month, lead in worship.

I was just sharing my heart with him that I really felt like God was

transitioning us out of Phoenix and just didn’t know what God had for us.

He We were at lunch, and he’s like, Why don’t you just come here?

In my mind, I’m like,

There’s no way in the world I would ever move to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

I’m from Phoenix, Arizona.

It’s a fifth largest city in the country.

Good shopping, good food.

I went on a vacation with my family,

and the Lord just spoke to my wife and I and said, Move to Baton Rouge.

Here we are.

Baton Rouge is a very unique city, and LSU is here.

But I believe Bethany Church the best

thing about Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas.

It’s a church with rich history.

We’re just celebrating 60 years being a church.

There’s been a rich history of great worship

with Pastor Jonathan Stocksdale, was a worship leader for many years,

had a band called Deluge, and has written some amazing…

I think he’s the best songwriter we have.

But yes, recently, I was leading worship

and helping with Bethany Music a little bit.

At the top of this year, I

took took over the executive role of just overseeing our team and helping with our

campus worship, and of course, Bethany Music.

But yeah, we’re excited about the future.

We’ve got some great things planned for next year and just really want to help

people experience the life-changing power of God’s presence.

We’re not planning on focusing on this,

but you said something really quickly in your story that I want to just hit

on because a lot of worship leaders are in this season of praying about a transition.

A lot of people in the academy are to me about, maybe it’s time for me to step out.

I’m actually literally, as of yesterday,

transitioning from my church to a new church.

This podcast won’t go out for a few

months, so it doesn’t matter that I share that right now live.

But when you said the Lord, you went on vacation and you were like,

we’re never moving to Baton Rouge, but the Lord spoke to you and your wife.

Just so that it helps somebody who’s

praying about if it’s time to transition, what did that speaking look and feel like?

And how did you know?

And how did God speak to both you and your wife?

We don’t have to spend a tonne of time here, but I think it would be helpful.

No, I think it’s cool to talk about it.

I would say for me, I didn’t hear this audible voice like, move to Baton Rouge.

I just kept thinking about Baton Rouge.

I just kept thinking about how great the church was.

It was on my heart. I think the tipping point for me is I

looked at my wife and we were just in, I think we were at a restaurant,

and we both just said, We’re supposed to move to Baton Rouge.

It was this agreement.

It was this thing that we set it together.

Rather, it was like, this is bizarre.

This is wild.

I think it was more of just this

impression and this feeling like this pushing, like you’re supposed to do this.

I don’t know about you, but I would much rather err on the side

of, I think the Lord’s asking me to do this

and being obedient versus just, I’m going to do my own thing.

Obedience is better than sacrifice, is what the Bible says.

I’ve always just tried to be obedient.

As a result of that, we’ve just seen some amazing fruit the last couple of years.

My family’s doing really well.

My kids are great here.

I think a priority for us as people of God is to follow what he’s asking us to do.

I think that when we say yes to him,

everything that we need is just laid out and becomes clear.

The steps of a righteous man and woman are order of God.

I just feel like we’ve seen the ordering of God in our time here.

And so it’s been a beautiful thing. Yeah.

Thanks for going there with me and sharing that.

I think somebody needs to

hear that and feel affirmed in the impressions and the pushing of the Lord.

There’s a pushing.

Someone told me recently there’s a pushing and a pulling.

So it’s both.

It’s like, where I am now is not where I’m supposed to be.

And then there’s something out there that’s pulling you towards it.

For sure. And I think

how you transition from one season to another will determine

really the success of the future and the things God has for you.

I think it’s really important that if you really feel like God’s speaking to you

to make a transition, to leave where you are in a healthy place.

Don’t talk bad about leadership.

Don’t talk bad about the city stinks.

We should bless our

previous season before we move into the future and what God has for us.

Even with me, I’ll just be transparent.

I struggled because Baton Rouge is such a small city, and I love to shop.

I love all the things that a larger city has to offer.

When I was first here, I was like, Man,

I caught myself being negative about the city.

I had to change my words right away.

Lord, I’m sorry for being negative about being in a small town.

The two biggest things are LSU and Bethany Church.

But I think it’s important that we

transition healthy, and we bless leadership,

and we get blessing for that transition, and just do it the right way.

Yeah, all the way through. That’s good.

Okay, so let’s talk about our topic then

for today, which is excellence and authenticity.

So when you came in to Bethany.

You said Jonathan Stocksdale had been

there for a while, and obviously, he’s an excellent leader.

So when you stepped in, was it already that excellent and that passionate?

Did you find it to be like,

or have you really, and I’m not trying to tell you to say

that you You improved upon Jonathan’s thing or whatever.

But have you been part of improving that excellence?

Because some of the videos I’m seeing now are just so good.

Yeah, I think I don’t like to try to take credit myself.

I think when you lead strong and you cast vision and you help people

understand the why behind what we’re doing and you get people to buy into it and you

get a team that’s on board, you can go places.

So I feel like talking about

excellence, I’m the first guy to be like, Let’s rehearse this thing 100 times.

I personally feel like making sure that rehearsal is great

and that you’re working out parts set you up for success to have the flow stuff.

Everybody wants to flow, right?

That’s why we’re in this flow.

I feel like spending time rehearsing songs,

rehearsing sets, getting them polished, actually lifts the burden of thinking so

much about the technical side to, I’m just going to focus on hearing from the Lord.

I’m going to focus on what’s needed

in the room right now and what’s God saying right now, versus like, Man,

I don’t really know what’s happening in this progression.

I don’t know how we’re transitioning.

I feel like that’s something that we worked on in a big way.

I’m shocked when I travel to find out how

many ministries don’t really do midweek rehearsals at all or team nights or

community It becomes like this Sunday morning is just

that’s when we all get together and play music.

Versus we’re a community of people

who love each other, go after God outside of Sunday morning and pursue him together.

Then Sunday morning is our overflow of where we’ve been.

I always say this

pretty much every time I do a podcast or any interview is,

as a worship leader, it’s really tough to take people to a place you’ve never been.

It’s really important that we spend time with the Lord, not only on our own,

but with our teams, and make room for his presence

before we ever get on a stage and lead people in worship.

And then, like you said, doing all that, which I want to dig into that in just

a minute, all of the stuff you’re doing off stage to be excellent on stage

and to be passionate on stage, because it sounds like it’s a fusion.

It’s a combination of both practical skills of playing music,

but also that spending time with the Lord and encouraging people in their faith.

So we’ll talk about, practically, what that looks like in a second.

But one thing you said was just doing it a thousand times,

rehearsing the song a hundred times in order to have the flexibility.

So you prepare

to have that confidence and then to have that flexibility when you need to flex.

And so tell us a little more about that.

You said team nights, you said midweek rehearsals.

So let’s talk about the musical side.

On a musical At your excellence level,

what are you doing week to week, month to month, quarter to quarter,

to resource your team and to equip your team musically?

What are the off-stage things?

Yeah, I mean, a lot of people do midweek rehearsals.

I’m not saying There’s tonnes of churches that don’t do that.

But I think making that a priority and making it a consistent thing.

What I do see people is doing, Oh,

we do once a month, or we may cancel a lot, or making it a consistent thing.

Every Wednesday night is our night for team night.

Our team nights are not just rehearsals.

They’re times where we pray for needs.

We celebrate victories, things that are going on.

We celebrate volunteers, people that have a birthday or all

the things, just things that they’ve done to serve in an extraordinary way.

Team night is every Wednesday night.

Then once a quarter, we’re doing community nights where it’s something off-site.

We’re going to talk golf, we’re hanging out at someone’s house.

Then twice a year, we do all-campus community nights where

it’s every camp is coming together and just hanging out.

Trying to keep people in relationship

and let people know that we’re not just looking for your gift to use on a weekend.

We’re actually involved in your life,

and we care about what’s happening in your world and how you’re doing.

That’s really important.

On a technical level, we’re

just like anybody else in the sense of we’re preparing stems and preparing our

flow for our time that we have for weekends.

But something that we do is

very intentional with our team nights is building in our spots where we know, Hey,

this is probably where we want to spend some time and stretch out.

I think for those that are listening,

that maybe you’re on an 18-minute Timer and you’ve got three songs that you do,

and you have to do those three songs and get off stage.

I tell people, just start small.

Listen, some of the most impactful moments

in God’s presence in worship have been when we just sit on a one

and we’re just taking 60 seconds and just letting the room breathe.

There’s power in giving people a scripture

or a testimony or something that’s relevant to the song you’re singing.

But man, it’s super powerful when you’re

just in a moment and just sitting for a minute and just letting God

do something in the room and us taking a step back in a back seat, if you will.

And just see what God will do.

I tell people to just take 60 seconds in a set and carve that in and just say,

We’re going to do this right here and just let it breathe, and then build from that.

We have those intentions where we’d say, Okay, we’ve got 25 minutes this weekend.

We’ve got these four songs right here.

Let’s do this chord progression, and let’s just see what happens there.

Maybe God speaks something and we start

repeating a line or a scripture or whatever it So

being intentional about building in those moments in our sets for a flow.

Yeah. Yeah.

And do you say up top of the 60 seconds

like, hey, we’re just going to give you guys a little bit of space?

Do you lead the room in that way or do you just let it sit and linger?

I think a great way to start is if it’s at the end of maybe a worship song.

And a lot of times people, they start to flow.

And if it’s somebody leading from keys or guitar, they’ll start playing this

crazy core progression and tell, Oh, I got to flow and I got to do this.

I think the best way is just keep this

same progression that’s been going in that song and just let that go.

Maybe it’s something like, Hey, church,

let’s just take a moment, lift our hands, and just put your eyes on Jesus.

You can never go wrong with telling people to focus on him

and take our eyes off of what’s going on around us, what we’re feeling,

the pressures of life, what we’re seeing on a stage with lights and everything.

Let’s just focus our attention on Jesus for a minute.

Would you lift your hands with me?

Just begin to sing to him.

Just begin to let a song come out of your

heart, a song of Thanksgiving, a song of praise.

You’d be surprised by what will happen in that moment.

Then just release them, go, and launch out into the deep and see what happens.

It could be 30 seconds.

It could break into a couple of minute thing.

I just feel like that’s such a misunderstood, beautiful, simple

act is just to say, Lift your hands, let’s just go,

and just see what God will do and what people will do in that moment to worship.

Can I dive into your team nights a little bit and dig into that?

Are you inviting the entire team or only the team that’s playing that week?

And then besides just running through the songs, is there any other musical

resourcing, whether it’s there at team night or pre-team night?

Hey, learn the stems, here are the files, blah, blah, blah.

I know there’s a few questions there, but who’s at Team Night?

What are you doing to musically help them improve?

Yeah.

Anybody that serves at that campus is

welcome at Team Night, whether they’re serving that weekend or not.

It’s up to them if they want to, Hey, I just want to come and be a part.

Anybody that is joining the team,

we ask our people that are joining to come for four team nights

just to come and see how it’s floating, get a chance to put some ears on and just

listen and be a part, see how the night goes.

But typically, our team nights are those that are on for the weekend.

We do something a little unique.

We record all of our own vocal stems.

So what I find is you could get a Mab City song where there’s more of a gang choir

vocal stem versus maybe a William McDale song that’s in your face, big BGVs.

We that it’s a little inconsistent for us

at the broadcast campus to have all of those different sounds.

We want to make it our own.

We record all of our own background vocal stems.

Every week? Every week, yeah.

Wow. I guess you do it one time, right?

Then it’s good for the future, yeah.

Yeah, we’re usually a couple of weeks

ahead, so we know what we’re doing on the set and recording those vocals.

It helps with resources for PCO.

All the parts are up there.

It’s what we’re going to be singing with for that weekend.

That’s been a huge bump for us.

Plus, it’s just like when you’re leading worship and you got ears

on and you hear your own people, people, I know Nick’s voice.

It just makes it feel like authentic,

more authentic because it’s our own people helping to support the live thing.

How long are your Wednesday nights?

Right now, we do weekly prayer meetings.

Our Wednesday night prayer starts at 6:00 6:30.

We’re all involved in prayer, and it’s awesome.

Our prayer night is awesome.

It goes till 7:30.

Usually, we break out at about 7:20, both 10 minutes early.

We go from 7:30 to 9:00.

Our team night is an hour and a half.

Our team, we’re blessed to have some, as far as on a musician’s level

and singers across the board, some really talented people.

So they come pretty prepared.

And so what might take two,

two and a half hours, three hours for some, we can get done in an hour.

So it’s all about efficiency, too.

Being prepared ahead of time, stems are ready.

We’re not like, oh, we got to change this key.

Oh, we got to edit this out.

So our team night are about an hour and a half.

It used to be two hours, so we would start at 7:00, go to 9:00.

But I just think if you are prepared and you have a good plan

in place that you could maximise and do 90 minutes,

if there’s not a lot of sitting around, a lot of dead time, and you’re really…

So we start with vocals separately.

So vocals will take 30 to 45 minutes

running their parts together and making sure they feel good about it,

band is separate, and then come together and run the set together.

Yeah. Vocally, what are they doing back there?

I never knew what the vocalist did back there.

Yeah. We have a vocal cart.

It’s this rolling cart with a laptop, speaker, and stems.

The person that’s running the vocal

rehearsal can solo up, Hey, this is the tenor part with a click.

This is the alto part.

They’re just making sure that they understand the form of the song like, Hey,

we’re coming in on second verse and singing second chorus.

Whoever’s leading the song, they’ve got Bridge One by themselves.

We join unison, all the things, whether it’s unison, two-part harmony,

if there’s a three-part harmony, where those things are happening in the song.

That’s what they’re mainly rehearsing. Got it.

So they’re not running through the full set, are they?

They’re digging into each song and trying to make sure they understand the…

Because that’s usually the biggest

challenge is like, when are we sing in Unison, When are we going into parts?

When are we joining?

Because when is whoever’s leading the song, when are they solo by themselves?

And when do we support? That’s awesome.

Two things I want to say, one to those listening live or after the fact.

Notice, B. J.

Said he gives them resources and they’re ahead on their schedule.

So I always say, give your team the tools

that they need with the time that they need to succeed.

And B. J.

Is doing that. And excellence comes from us resourcing

our team well, being organised and being ahead.

And it’s a slow step by step building excellence over time.

It’s not like you arrive overnight.

It’s like months and years of just continually improving little by little.

So one thing one of our academy members said, B.

J.

Ben Barnes said, I’ll be trying that 60 second thing this week.

So there you go.

And Ginger said, this is such confirmation

for me to step back and let the Lord lead in our services.

So you’re rocking it right now, BJ.

So let’s talk about arranging, because your albums

that I’ve seen online are so well-produced and so well-arranged, all the parts.

And you have a lot of musicians on stage for your live recordings.

And obviously, we know you bury stuff or you overdub stuff.

Not you, everybody.

But how do you approach arranging?

And what’s your approach with layering all these different sounds and instruments?

And how are you getting all the pieces to work together?

Give us some of your pro tips on arranging

the band, because a lot of worship leaders have no idea how to stack layers.

And I’m not asking you to teach a master class, but maybe just some overview,

because I think a lot of worship leaders have no idea about how to…

Frequencies and when to expand the frequencies, when to pull them back.

And any general arrangement advice?

Yeah, I think, man, if you love songwriting,

if you love music in general, make sure you’re listening to all kinds of music.

I’m not telling people to go listen to bad music, but don’t just get honed in on,

I’m only listening to this genre and this thing all the time.

Because I pull things from all different genres.

I’m like, Oh, I really like the way that drum pattern happened on this pre-chorus.

I really like the way

this bass player was not overplaying here, and it was just whole notes.

And so I just try to think what serves the song best.

If you’re working with maybe novice players or people that are still growing

in their craft, like, simple is always better.

Simple always wins.

I think people try to think,

If I do this drum fill four times in the song, then I feel like I’m good.

Well, maybe the song doesn’t need that drum fill.

What it really needs is meat and potatoes.

Just give me the kick, snare,

hi-hat pattern, and stay with that because you don’t want to overshadow what

the lyric is saying right here and the vocal is doing.

Just being mindful of what I keep coming back to, what serves the song the best

and gets You’re the water that it’s floating on, the boat is sailing on.

What is the best platform for it?

And so get my own wants out of the way

because I really feel like I need to stretch out here as a musician or this

guitar part, God gave it to me, so I got to play it.

What serves the song best?

That’s the best advice I could give. That’s so good.

And for the academy members or those outside of the academy,

I do have a full musical excellence course in the academy me with it breaks down how

to achieve it for yourself and for your team.

And so check that out.

There’s 50 lessons.

They’re like five minute videos.

Dive into that if you haven’t yet.

One thing, BJ, is vocalists on your team

seem very passionate and in their stage presence.

I know that this is something that my church has struggled with.

It’s something that many churches struggle with.

How do you coach your vocalist to be expressive?

Or do you?

Yeah,

I just had, I won’t say his name in case he watches this,

but I had one of our college students that serves maybe once or twice a month.

I had him lead a song.

I asked him to lead a song.

First service,

he had his eyes closed 80% of the time and was just like a rock and would move.

So I just, Hey, let’s talk after this service.

I was like, Hey, I want you to sing that song for me again.

He’s like, Why now?

I’m like, Yeah, just sing it.

Go ahead and sing the verse.

He started doing the same thing.

I said, Hey, stop for a second.

Open your eyes.

I said, If you were in a congregation and you’re trying to sing this song

and someone’s leading you, how would you feel if the person had their

eyes closed the whole time or looking down and not moving?

It’d be hard to engage.

So I said, You sing great.

It’s not about how you vocally perform.

It’s your stage presence.

So open your eyes.

By the way, you didn’t smile one time the entire song.

I personally have to remind myself when

I’m leading worship in my head, Hey, smile.

Hey, smile.

It’s okay to smile.

It’s not like I’m putting on a fake thing.

Because as a musician,

as a worship leader, a lot of times we get zoned in our heads.

We’re We’re trying to think of these lyrics.

We’re trying to like, what’s happening next?

If you’re playing as well, there’s a lot going on.

There’s a lot to manage.

And so I tend to get real serious and focused.

And so I have to remind myself, man,

be joyful, be happy, put a smile on your face.

You can put a smile on your face while

you’re still thinking through your head of what’s coming up, the lyrics.

So I coach them and I’m always like, oh, thank you.

I didn’t even know that I was doing that.

A lot of people just don’t even realise. So that’s one way.

Another way is to say, Hey,

go to our site and watch what you did and just give me your feedback.

Tell me what you thought.

And so they’ll, right away, Oh, my gosh, I looked so mean.

I looked so…

So that’s a great way.

It’s just go have people watch them.

I hate listening to myself and watching myself.

But it’s the best way to figure out how

you come across and what you look like on stage.

Stage presence, a lot of people are like, Oh, it doesn’t matter.

If people are worried about that, then they’re just being carnal.

No, I’m trying to do my best to give all the things I can to help people engage.

If the point is for people to engage

and enter into God’s presence and experience him and worship him,

I need to do all I can to make that happen.

If stage presence is something that’s

going to prevent that, I’m going to work on it.

Yeah, so good.

You coached him and you helped him, and he was thankful.

So many people are scared to tell the truth to their people.

How you shared what you shared to us was so kind and warm, and it wasn’t

against the person, it was for the person, it was supporting.

I think doing those little conversations

over many months is how we improve the whole ministry.

It’s a thousand of those conversations,

and then now all of a sudden, your team is passionate and engaged.

It’s way easier to have those

conversations when you have a relationship with someone.

Exactly. It’s more difficult for people to take

feedback or even negative feedback, Hey, you need to work on this.

If it’s, I don’t even know you.

I barely know your name, or never even asked if you need prayer for anything.

It’s way easier if that person feels like,

Man, I trust you, and I know you have the best intentions, and you know my heart.

Yeah, it’s so good.

Now let’s move into that side, and this will just be very brief.

I want to respect your time.

Relationally and spiritually, you talked about how that just seems to be

a huge part of your ministry and doing those fuu