main cow pic


So what is The Practice, anyway?

Filed under: The Practice,willow — 4:14 pm

Hey friends. As you know, we started an experimental, practice-based, neo-liturgical community last year at Willow called The Practice. It’s been a huge challenge…and one of the best years of my whole life. Such a wonderful community and adventure.

Many of you have asked about it, and I usually stumble in the description, but Conversations Journal just published an interview that captures the spirit of The Practice well. We are still in the beginning of this journey–with SO MUCH to learn–but here’s a bit of the story so far….

Conversations Journal

Conversations Journal

CONVERSATIONS JOURNAL: Aaron, we wanted to interview you for many reasons—your depth of character, your integrative musical talents, your delight in the work of spiritual formation. But for the purposes of this article, we want to focus on the ways you have been integrating the formation of community and the practice of the spiritual disciplines, or, as this section is called, the classical spiritual exercises. Could you tell our readers a little bit about how you’ve been integrating those things? I’m thinking specifically of the launching of The Practice at Willow Creek Community Church. What is it, how did it come about, how is it going? (I like to jam as many questions into my first question as I can.)

AARON NIEQUIST: Wow, first of all, thanks so much for those incredibly kind words. I’m honored to be a part of this conversation. Over the last ten-plus years, I’ve been on a bit of a journey—both as a Christian and as a worship leader. And I’m coming to find that much of modern Christianity is wonderful and true and beautiful, but a little too thin. It is a profoundly helpful invitation into relationship with God, but doesn’t always address the deeper, more complex questions of life, doubt, and faith. And it doesn’t always help us move beyond beliefs into the “abundant life” that Jesus offers.

And so both in my personal walk with Christ, and as a worship leader in two different evangelical churches (Mars Hill in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Willow Creek in Chicago), some friends and I have been trying to learn from other Christian traditions and embrace a more formation-oriented, grounded, ecumenical, historical, robust way to follow Christ. Basically, instead of saying, “Our tradition has all we need,” we’ve been saying, “Our tradition is a wonderful part of the story, but we desperately need the wisdom and insight of our other brothers and sisters.”

In the summer of 2013, the Willow Creek leadership asked me if I’d want to explore what this might look like in a community. (Rather than just trying to force strange practices into our weekend worship sets! Ha.) And so after much prayer, conversation, and dreaming, we launched The Practice community on Sunday nights.

CJ: What do you mean by forcing strange practices into your weekend worship sets? I can guess, but I’m wondering how the classical spiritual exercises go from being “strange practices” in one context to an alluring draw to community and Christlikeness in another context? I’m guessing it’s not just by changing the service time from Sunday morning to Sunday nights! How did the Willow Creek community begin to embrace what you were bringing?

AN: One of the biggest things I’ve been learning is this: Whoever asks the question determines everything. So if the driving question is “How do we get the room fired up in the first thirty minutes of the service?” then the answer is never “corporate confession.” Right? However, if the question is “How do we help form people into Christlikeness?” then corporate confession would definitely be one of the answers.

And so the key to the whole Practice experiment has been that Willow Creek gave us the freedom to ask new questions. And new questions can change everything.”

Download the whole article here…

The Strange Practices of The Practice.

Grace and peace,



Let’s help an amazing artist create amazing art!

Filed under: creativity,music,willow — 10:11 am


For the last five years, I’ve had the privilege of leading worship, singing, and creating art with Sharon Irving.  She is sincerely one of the most talented people I know…a pure artist who never stops imagining and exploring and pushing.

If you’ve been around Willow, you know her well.

Whether singing, rapping, writing songs, or doing spoken word, Sharon brings a prophetic power and possibility to everything she touches.

And she is recording her debut album!

The story…

Like most independent artists, she needs our help to make this happen.  So let’s join her!  Might you be willing to help support her Kickstarter Campaign?  Even 5 or 10 bucks?  Or more?  Here is the link to all the info and a way to give…

Sharon Irving’s Kickstarter. 




My new job

Filed under: church,God's movement,willow — 10:50 am

Hey friends.  In terms of vocation, the last couple years have been a tumultuously beautiful journey.
Great moments of pain and great moments of blessing – often in the same day.  But through God’s mercy,
the last few months have brought incredible clarity and a brand new adventure.

No, it’s not my life-long ambition to become a Chippendale’s dancer.  That dream will just have to wait.
But instead…

We are starting an experimental community at Willow Creek called The Practice: Learning the
Unforced Rhythms of Grace.  We aim to be a discipleship-focused, formation-oriented, practice-based tribe
asking two simple questions:  (1) What is the Life that Christ invites us into? and (2) What are the 
we can do, together and on our own, to embrace this Eternal Life now?  Or said simply:
What is God doing and how can we join Him?

That’s it.

We’ll gather on most Sunday nights in the Willow chapel to explore this together.

Friends, I haven’t been this excited or hopeful in years.  This is the kind of work I was made for.
But more than vocation, this is the kind of tribe I desperately need to be a part of.  I need them.

Here are a couple foundations we’ll be building on…

(1) The Kingdom.  Jesus has invited every one of us to join God in healing and redeeming this
world.  Through the scriptures, story, and worship, we want to align ourselves with this good work.
(2) Equipping.  According to Eph 4, the church exists to equip the people for ministry.  Sunday
night is not the main event, but a training ground to be God’s hands and feet in our world.
(3) Practice-based. More of a spiritual gymnasium than classroom. The focus is on the practices and disciplines that form us into Christlikeness.
(4) Ecumenical. Relentlessly committed to humbly learning from other Christian traditions and practices.
(5) Eucharistic. Every gathering will culminate with communion to weekly anchor us in Christ’s death, resurrection, and promos of return.

Over the next few weeks and months, our little tribe will begin fleshing out these pillars.  Please pray for us!
Please pray that God would give us supernatural Wisdom, strength beyond ourselves, and deep humility.
Please pray that God would pull us into His Revolution in ways we never could have imagined.

And if you live in the Chicago area, we’d love for you to join us. (Sign up to our email list to learn more.)  We don’t have it all figured out…in fact…we don’t have almost anything figured out! But we are throwing ourselves into this adventure and can’t wait to see what God does.

Grace and peace,



Four Free recordings of “God’s Children”

Filed under: A New Liturgy,willow,worship — 9:18 pm

Last weekend at Willow, in the spirit of Celebration of Hope, we sang “God’s Children” together.
This song is a sweeping celebration of God’s immense love for every single person on earth.  Without exception. For God so loves the world…

Afterward, a friend mentioned that they have the “New Liturgy” version of the song, but wanted a recording
of the more driving, rock version we did at Willow.  So I’ve decided to pull together every recorded version of
“God’s Children” and give them away on Noisetrade…

(1) “God’s Children (New Liturgy version)” – from ANL No 1: God is Love
(2) “God’s Children (Toms and Trombones Version)” – from Remix EP 1.  The story of it is HERE.
(3) “God’s Children (Alberta Remix)” – the fun electronic remix by Alberta from Remix EP 2.
(4) “God’s Children (live at Willow)” – this is the rough board mix from our last service.  It doesn’t
sound as full as it did in the room, but hopefully it captures some of the energy.

You can download the chord charts HERE.

Finally, if you’re interested, here is a video from the very first time we taught this song at Willow…


Creation Liturgy (LIVE at Willow) is now on Vimeo

Filed under: A New Liturgy,willow,worship — 10:02 am
Creation live at Willow

Creation live at Willow

On October 21st, we shared the Creation New Liturgy with the Willow Creek community.  Our band worked hard to capture the sounds, grooves, and textures…and my friend Stephen Proctor created a “visual liturgy” that took our breath away.  The production team masterfully supported it all, and most importantly, the Willow community jumped in to sing, pray, and worship from their toes.  It was a really beautiful weekend.

More and more, we’re discovering that A New Liturgy is meant to be experienced by a community. The readings take on a new energy, the songs become anthems, and the prayers transform into holy acts of solidarity.  It’s no surprise that the word “Liturgy” literally means “the work of the people”.  Indeed.

And so we’re really excited to share this video of the 11:15am service with you.  The music was re-mixed but not fixed, so what you hear is exactly what happened in the room.  It’s not the same as being there, of course, but we hope it pulls you into the beauty of God’s Creation and reminds you that “The Creator of the entire universe knows your name”.

A New Liturgy : CREATION from proctor on Vimeo.


Two great Advent resources

Advent Project

I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent, but the last handful of years have been teaching me the power and beauty of this season.  Millions of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world humbly enter into this practice every year, and it’s been moving to join them.  No matter where you are on your journey, here are two resources that might help you engage Advent this year…

(1) Glenn Packiam’s Blog – Glenn is a pastor/musician/author I respect that has taught me a lot about liturgy and the Eucharist.  His last two blog posts – How Advent Can Be Much More Than “The Christmas Season” and Advent Resources have really helped Shauna and I talk about how our family will enter into Advent this year.  Highly recommended.

(2) The Willow Advent Project – I’m thrilled to announce that the worship leaders of Willow have created a four week Advent resource for the community:  four 8-10 minute prayer and worship recordings…journeys of scripture, music, and reflection…each available for free download at the Willow Creek website.  Our hope is that these recordings would help you slow down every day to pray, worship, and prepare your heart to celebrate Christ’s birth.  You can learn more about the Advent project at Willow’s worship blog.


December doesn’t need to be an exhausted blur of shopping, busyness, and stress.  I’ve let that happen way too many times.  Let’s commit ourselves – as individuals, families, and communities – to live differently this season.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.


The best version of “Changed” I’ve ever heard.

Filed under: music,willow,worship — 11:15 am

My friend Shawn Christopher just recorded the best version of “Changed” I’ve ever heard.  (Even though I’ve recorded three versions of the song myself…I have to admit that hers is best!!  Way to go, Shawn!)  Here is the recording…make sure you listen to the gloriously huge ending.  It builds and builds and Shawn takes things to a new level.  So great…

You can download the track or entire album on iTunes HERE.  Enjoy!


Planting Seeds: A Father’s Day Short Film

Filed under: God's movement,willow — 7:59 am

This short film is stunning…

Created by Blaine Hogan and Bjorn Amundsen.  Music by The Brilliance.


Liturgy, Shane Claiborne, and Willow Creek

Filed under: A New Liturgy,God's movement,willow,worship — 2:34 pm

This last weekend at Willow was one of my favorite weekends in a long time. Our friend Shane Claiborne joined up with the worship team to help lead a liturgy from his Common Prayer book. (If you haven’t seen this prayer book, please check it out HERE.)

The intro from the 11:15 service…

To see the whole liturgy, you can watch it at the Willow Creek worship blog.


a worship leader’s fundamental role

Filed under: willow,worship — 9:04 am

the mic

This weekend at Willow re-taught me an important lesson.

The worship experience was a liturgical type journey through the four scripture passages from the 5th Sunday of Lent.
We read the scripture aloud, sang a few old-school songs and hymns, paused to pray in silence, and tried to let God speak to us along the way.  (You can see more details HERE.)

But as excited as I was, our Saturday afternoon rehearsal was a little disappointing.  We played all the right notes and read all the right words, but the energy was dead.  The experience felt empty and hollow…like it was missing something very important.

But then it hit me like a ton of bricks:  Of course we were missing something important…we were missing the lead instrument:  THE COMMUNITY!  And once they filled the room and began to pour their hearts into these readings and songs, the whole experience came to life.  Of course!  I had forgotten that the key role of a worship leader/band is to be the accompanist of the congregation, and so a rehearsal should always sound empty without them.

In fact, if the sound of our rehearsal is full enough to be a performance, then it will probably be bad accompaniment.

You’d think I’d know this by now, but I was thankful to re-learn it this weekend.  Our team is still working to figure out how to create musical arrangements that leave a “congregation-sized hole” in them, rather than fill up all the space and ask people to sing along.  But it’s quite counter-intuitive…especially in those painfully empty rehearsals!  However, we’re committed to becoming the best accompaniment band we can be, always remembering that God is the audience, the church are the performers, and we are their backing band.

Fellow worship leaders, does this connect with you?  Or do you approach things in a different way?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Sigur Ros meets Lauryn Hill meets Karin Bergquist meets a Baptist Minister from 1875

Filed under: creativity,willow,worship — 2:58 pm

This weekend at Willow, my friends Becky Johnson and Sharon Irving created something to help us prepare for communion.  It was absolutely breathtaking, so I wanted to share it with you.  (About half way through, the video goes live.)  Enjoy!

You can read about the whole service at Willow’s worship blog:


This Christmas at Willow

Filed under: creativity,willow — 6:05 pm

My friends Blaine, Bjorn, Paul, and Rhianna have been pouring themselves into this short film
for the Willow Christmas services.  It looks amazing!  I can’t wait to be a part of the live soundtrack…

Come join us at one of the services!  Info HERE.


Life update…

Filed under: A New Liturgy,life,willow,worship — 9:16 pm

Mac's first bath

Hey, I’m so sorry for the ten days since the last post.  It’s been a crazy couple weeks!  Here are a few things that have been going on…

(1) The baby!  Mac’s first 5 weeks on planet earth have been fantastic and exhausting.  We’re so ridiculously thankful and happy…but could use a decent night’s sleep.  But other than 48 scary hours in the hospital when he was only ten days old (which turned out to be nothing more than a cold!), all is well with the little guy.

(2) Shauna and Henry.   I feel like the luckiest guy in the world.

Henry's 5th Birthday

(3) A New Liturgy.  The last few weeks have been really busy in my little home studio –  working on
Liturgy No 2:  “Blessed to Be a Blessing”.  (You can check out pictures and updates at the New Liturgy Facebook Page.)  As of right now, three out of the four movements are finished, and the final movement will be done next week.  I can’t possibly convey how excited I am about all this…and really look forward to sharing it with you!

tracking bass drum in my living room

Ada Bible Church

(4) Leading Worship.  In October, I lead worship five different times, 12 services:  at Willow three times, once at Ada Bible Church, and once at Mars Hill.  And the next couple weeks are equally full.  But honestly, I love it.  It’s such a huge honor to get to serve communities in this way, and I can’t wait for this coming weekend…

[By the way, NT Wright is coming to speak at Willow this Saturday and Sunday.  He’s a genius and I can’t wait to hear what he brings.  His new book is Simply Jesus.]

There’s so much more to share!  Coming soon…


From Roman Catholic kid to evangelical church-planter to Episcopal Priest…

Filed under: God's movement,willow,worship — 6:49 pm

Ian and the team

This weekend, we had the huge privilege of leading worship at Willow with my friend Ian Morgan Cron.  Ian is an author of two phenomenal books, a great musician, and crazy smart.

Ian grew up Roman Catholic, planted a non-denomina-tional church in his 30s, and is now an Episcopal Priest.  As you might guess, he has a fascinating perspective about God, church, worship, and liturgy…and so we invited him to Willow Creek to share some of his journey and lead us in a liturgical experience.

After reading a bit from his book Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and me…, Ian lead us in the Kyrie Eleison – which means “Lord, have mercy”.  He taught a very simple refrain, and then guided us through a number of liturgical prayers.  We (the band) did our best to think “What would Sigur Ros sound like in a Roman Catholic cathedral?”, and accompanied the prayers with a moody soundtrack that built and built and finally exploded into a soaring “Lord have mercy;  Lord have mercy.”

As it all landed, Ian invited us to quietly pray:

Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
in your compassion forgive us our sins,
known and unknown,
things done and left undone;
and so uphold us by your Spirit
that we may live and serve you in newness of life,
to the honor and glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

…and then he took the biggest risk of the weekend.  Ian tenderly said, “I believe that we all are the priesthood of believers, and so I’m going to ask you to do something that might feel weird.  Please turn to the person next to you, look them in the eye, and say ‘In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven’”.

The next few moments were as holy as it gets.  Such a simple thing, but so powerful.

I’m really thankful to Ian for coming to serve our church – and exposing us to an entirely different experience of worship and the liturgy.  (You can learn more about Ian at

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