Worship and Creative Director of The Vine Church in Hong Kong, Tom Read shares his experience of leading worship for a diverse congregation. As a UK native, Tom focuses on bridging the gap between Western and Eastern culture. He also gives insight into the software, apps and instruments he uses in his songwriting and planning as well as the importance of using creative and unconventional methods of worship.
What are your roles and responsibilities in your church?
I’m the Worship and Creative Director and I lead a department that oversees all the music, media, design, and creative aspects of the church.
Tell us about your church (style of worship, size of church, what church looks like in your part of the world, how the church is impacting the community, etc.):
The Vine Church is a non-denominational church based in Hong Kong, with around 1200 people regularly attending our services. One unique thing about our church is the diversity within the congregation. Hong Kong is a very international city and we have over 60 different nations represented in our church, including a large number of refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and South Asia who worship with us. We are privileged to be able to minister and give support to over 250 refugees and asylum seekers each week.
What is the spiritual climate of your city?
Hong Kong is an interesting place; although only around 5% of the population are Christians, there is a real spiritual openness and hunger. Most people haven’t grown up in the church here and so don’t carry a lot of the usual baggage that you find with many people in the West who have grown up with religion and become disillusioned with the church or skeptical of Christianity. It’s also a very modern city and so I think that gets reflected in church culture too, however some of the challenges we face here are things like workaholism and materialism.
How do you prepare to lead?
It’s a mix of practical and spiritual preparation. I’ve known people in the past who have tended to place too much importance on one or the other, so I always try to get a balance between the two. I’ll usually look at what the theme or topic of the message for that week is, as well as chatting with the pastor or speaker to see if there is any direction they are wanting to go in. In the past I would often randomly throw set lists together, but these days I try to be more intentional with the songs that I’m choosing, whilst at the same time trying to strike a balance between practical things like new vs old songs. We’ve also been exploring how to worship corporately in ways other than just singing, and so I will often spend time during the week thinking and preparing any creative elements of our worship. We’ve done some pretty interesting stuff involving things like balloons, Instagram, and even black lights and invisible ink!
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget could you not live without?
My iPad has been such a valuable device for me. I use it more than my desktop now. It’s particularly helpful for leading worship as it has completely replaced physical chord sheets and binders – no more printing!! I also use the iPad for songwriting and recording demos. For Christmas my wife bought me a little FocusRite iTrack Solo audio interface that plugs into the iPad and it’s great for recording demos into Garageband.
What apps, software, instruments, or other tools do you recommend?
Apps: Evernote is the app that has changed my life. I use it for everything (I’m typing this up in Evernote right now) and the fact that it syncs seamlessly across all devices is crucial. I’ve used OnSong to manage chord sheets and lyrics in the past and it’s a great app, but most recently I’ve been using an app called GigBook which is great for set lists and managing lots of chord sheet PDFs.
Software: Planning Center Online was probably the best discovery for me as someone in charge of a large worship team. It makes me laugh to think about how much time I used to spend manually rostering my team with Excel. I also do some web design as part of my job and I can’t recommend WordPress enough. We recently just relaunched our entire church website (www.thevine.org.hk) using WordPress and I’m really happy with the results.
Instruments: I’ve been using a Taylor 810 CE for the last ten years which I’ve loved. Last year my debut solo album was released and so I decided that I would celebrate by buying a new guitar for the album launch party. Unfortunately Hong Kong doesn’t have the biggest selection of guitars, but I managed to find one of my dream guitars, a Martin D18GE Sunburst, on sale. I installed a K&K pure mini pick up, and I run it through an LR Baggs Venue DI. It sounds beautiful.
What’s your workspace like?
Usually it’s pretty messy. I’m challenging myself to go paperless as much as possible which has helped reduce a lot of the paper that used to clutter my work space. Both of my spaces at work and at home revolve around the three same things: an iMac, a guitar, and my iPad.
What are you listening to right now?
The Brilliance, Of Monsters and Men, The Lumineers, Norah Jones, All Sons and Daughters… there is so much good music around at the moment!
Can you share a recent set list with us?
I tweet my set lists each week with the #sundaysetlist hashtag so this was pretty easy to find:
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert? How does it affect your leadership style?
I’m quite a shy and reserved person naturally so I’d always considered myself to be an introvert, but I recently discovered that I actually recharge when I’m around people which actually makes me a shy extrovert. As a leader it’s meant that I’ve really had to learn how to express myself and relate to other people as it doesn’t come naturally. Authenticity is something that I always look for in a leader, so that’s how I try to be as leader myself.
What is your relationship like with your senior pastor?
I’m blessed to have a very close relationship with my senior pastor. He’s a long time family friend and has watched me grow up and into the role I’m in now. My dad was also senior pastor for many years and is now a founding pastor of the church so I really couldn’t have asked for a better relationship with my pastors. They are incredibly supportive and they really value worship. They took a risk at the beginning by hiring me as the worship pastor at the age of only 22, but they’ve let me learn and make mistakes in a safe place which has helped me develop.
Any advice you want to give to other worship leaders?
My main advice would be to be authentic. I spent too many years trying to be like other worship leaders and songwriters, so much so that my music was stripped of any of my personality. I finally decided that I had to stop writing music and songs that I thought other people wanted to hear, and start writing songs and music that I wanted to hear. I’d also encourage worship leaders to think outside the box and not always just go with the tried and tested. As I mentioned before, we’ve been doing this recently at our 4:00pm service and exploring what it means to worship with more than just music and songs. It can lead to some amazing and creative times of worship.
Fill in the blank. I’d like to see _______ answer these same questions.