About Me

After spending many years as the Worship Director and serving on the Programming staff at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, Joe and his family moved to Traverse City, Michigan, where he is now a teaching pastor and the Director of Worship Arts at Bay Pointe Community Church. During his years at Willow Creek, Joe had the wonderful privilege of working and touring with, and learning from, artists such as Darlene Zschech, Abraham Laboriel, Chris Tomlin and Tommy Walker. Joe has written and recorded a number of familiar worship choruses, including "Awesome, Amazing," "To Know You More," and "Still I Will Worship You,” and is coauthor of the book, “Exploring the Worship Spectrum.” Currently, as the director of Engaging the Heart Ministries, Joe also teaches and consults with churches on the topic of planning and leading effective worship services. Joe has been married to his wife, Becky, for 26 years and is the father of two daughters, Torri, age 24, and Abby, who is 21. Joe can be contacted at jhorness@gmail.com.

Contact Details

Joe Horness
2249 Twin Eagles Drive
Traverse City, Michigan 49686
Home Phone: 231-932-9133
Cell Phone: 231-392-4440

Worship Consulting

For a better idea of what an Engaging the Heart weekend might look like for your church or Worship Team, click on the button below.


I am passionate about creating environments where people have the opportunity to authentically connect with and worship God. I am seeking a ministry position where I can apply my years of experience as a worship director, teacher and mentor to help lead people into heart-felt times of worship and deeper relationships with Jesus. I am also seeking an environment that would offer me the opportunity to train and develop young worship leaders to lead rich worship ministries as well.


Worship Arts Pastor

Bay Pointe Community Church. Traverse City, Michigan - 07/2004 to Present

• As a teaching pastor, worship director and member of the management team, I helped lead Bay Pointe from being a church of 150 people to over 1700 during the 10 years we were there.
• Primary worship designer and leader for our weekend services.
• Developed and mentored 5 young worship leaders who eventually became regular worship leaders at Bay Pointe, with two who eventually moved on to full time positions in other ministries.
• Became our second teaching pastor, teaching approximately 15 times per year.
• Built and led teams of 80 - 100 volunteers that included instrumentalists, vocalists, choir, video and sound engineers, lighting and graphics operators, actors, dancers, stage designers, and service directors.
• Led the creation, rehearsal and production of all weekend services, holiday services and special events.
• Managed our Programming, Family Ministry, and Ongoing Education staffs.


Engaging the Heart Ministries. Traverse City, Michigan - 01/1995 to Present

• Launched “Engaging the Heart Ministries,” a consulting service designed to help emerging churches and worship leaders maximize their worship ministries.
• Taught and mentored developing worship leaders and ministries throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, Africa and Asia through mentoring, consulting and conferences.
• Regular worship leader at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
• Co-Authored the book, “Exploring the Worship Spectrum.”

Worship Director

Willow Creek Community Church. S. Barrington, Illinois - 09/1994 to 12/2004

• Led worship weekly for the roughly 6,000 people who attended our mid- week New Community services each Wednesday and Thursday night.
• Created, rehearsed and produced the worship experiences for our services each week.
• Wrote and arranged the music and charts for the band and vocalists as needed.
• Coordinated the recording of two live worship albums.
• Built and led the teams of volunteer instrumentalists and vocalists who participated in leading worship each week.
• Worked closely with guest worship leaders, including Darlene Zschech, Chris Tomlin, Tommy Walker, and Abraham Laboriel.
• Assisted in the creating, leading and producing of our weekend ‘seeker’ services.

Regional Producer: Global Leadership Summit

Willow Creek Association. S. Barrington, Illinois - 01/1995

• Lead yearly international training events for worship leaders, technical teams and producers who will oversee the reproduction of the Global Leadership Summit in their nation or region.
• Oversaw the production of all Global Leadership Summit conferences that were initially launched in Western Europe.
• Currently oversee the training and production of all Global Leadership Summit conferences for Africa, which encompasses 15 countries and 45 sites.


Trinity College

Deerfield, Illinois. June 1978 Bachelor of Arts, Philosophy, GPA: 3.95

• Participated in Band, Choir, Drama and traveling music teams, including tours of the United States and Europe.
• President of “Kappa Tau” - a group of select students who worked for the Admissions Dept.
• Graduated Suma Cum Lauda

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Deerfield, Illinois Philosophy of Religion, GPA: 3.5

Completed an additional 2 years of study.


• Leadership
• Teaching
• Creative - Worship Leading, Programming, Producing
• People - Mentoring, Leadership Development, Team-Building
• Music - Vocals, Keyboards, Arranging, Writing

Frequently Asked Questions

1. ​In 80 words or less, please give us a quick snapshot of who you are​.​
I am a deeply committed follower of Jesus, who’s greatest prayer these days is that God would receive greater glory through my life. I am a teacher and a worship leader who loves to create moments where God and His people can meaningfully come together, whether through music, creative arts, teaching His word, or some combination of these. I feel a deep calling on my life to mentor young artists in what it means to lead authentic, heart-felt worship. I love the process of training, then handing off leadership to others, then celebrating as they soar. God has given me incredibly rich opportunities to lead, learn, and do ministry, first at a church like Willow Creek, and then all over the world. At this stage of my life I want to teach His word, lead people into His presence, and pass on the investment He has made in me to others.

2. What are ways you tend to your own spiritual growth?
My early mornings are spent at my dining room table with a cup of coffee, my Bible and a journal. These days I often have a commentary open, or something by Charles Spurgeon as well. I spend time journaling about what God is saying to me, and then I spend time kneeling by my living room chair in prayer. My life is different, my heart is different, and my ministry is different when I am disciplined about spending this time. I rarely start a day without it. I will often listen to worship music, or Andy Stanley, John Ortberg or Francis Chan on my way to work. I love the teaching I receive from those guys.

3. Tell us of a redemptive time in your journey walking “in Christ.”
I grew up in the church and hated it. As a young artist, we attended a church where drums were ‘of the devil,’ I was told not to play certain chords or rhythms, and everything we did from music to teaching was shoddy. Unchurched people, the ‘riff-raff’ friends I would bring to church, were not welcome. When I hit 18 I decided I wanted to know God but swore I would never attend a church again. My college years took me through a long process of gradually separating my ‘church’ experience from my relationship to God, and through some great mentors and counseling eventually surrendering again to His call on my life to serve in ministry. It was a difficult, somewhat rebellious time, although my heart for God never let me drift too far. God was patient, gracious, and kept putting people in my life who kept calling me back to Him. When I finally walked into a movie theatre and experienced Willow Creek for the first time – a church with drums and chords and drama and excellence and relevance, where unchurched people were pursued instead of avoided; all things I thought the church would never be! – my heart came apart. Suddenly I realized what God had been doing in me all along, and I was ready to fully surrender. I finally realized I belonged.

4. What are your thoughts on Art in the context of the Church?
God created everything and said it was good! He created rhythm and harmonies. He created colors and beauty. He created the platypus, the giraffe and the hippo, and I think He laughed. And He did this all for us, knowing that these things would touch our hearts, empower our spirits, and cause us to know His love. When we create, we reflect his nature. When we use the arts, we touch people’s hearts and souls with the very tools God created to express His love to us. When we use dance and rhythm, when we hear a soulful sax solo or a guitar riff played with skillful hands, or listen to a symphony played to His glory, then we reclaim for the Kingdom something the evil one tried to take away. We reclaim the arts for redemptive purposes once again. We take the very tools God gave us to help us know Him and we reach across religious divides to help those far from God re-discover His love for them. God gave us the Arts so we could hear music and know His heart. So that we could see a rose and know that He is beautiful. So that we could see the heavens and know His greatness. So that we would not just hear about His love but we could actually feel it and know that it is real. Teachers teach the truth of the Word. Artists let us feel the truth of God’s love.

5. Describe a healthy relationship between a senior pastor and worship leader.
In a healthy relationship between a pastor and a worship leader, each realizes the importance of the other. The worship leader recognizes the incredible responsibility that the pastor carries to teach the word, cast vision to the church, raise money, build buildings and all of those things without which a worship leader would have no place to do what he does. At the same time, the pastor realizes what artists bring to the Kingdom of God; beauty, emotion, art that touches the soul where words sometimes cannot, and so on. The pastor and worship leader ideally honor each other for what each brings. It is their partnership that makes the church really work. Having said that, a healthy worship leader also realizes that at the end of the day, the pastor is his leader. There can be healthy discussions about tempos and tastes, style and volume, song choices or how a service flows. We are commanded to ‘speak the truth in love’ and to keep short accounts with one another, so challenging conversations are OK. Both the pastor and the worship leader realize the gifts that the other brings, and they realize that ultimately they want the same thing; for people to be drawn to know, love and follow Jesus. Under that umbrella, creative agreement can usually be found. If push comes to shove, however, then I believe the worship leader is called to remember the words of Peter, who wrote, “Likewise, you that are younger, submit to your elders, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” At the end of the day we are called to submit to our leaders.

6. What things do you love most about church ministry?
I love my life in Christ. Therefore, I love helping people fall in love with Christ, whether for the first time or after years of knowing Him. There is simply no other answer for life. I love community when it works. I love serving people. I love the richness of God’s word; it is inexhaustible, it is true, it never fails. I love being an artist in a local church; reclaiming the arts for God, touching people’s hearts, and leading people into the presence of Jesus. I love discovering someone’s spiritual gifts, finding ways for them to develop it and use it, then seeing them soar. I love creating ‘moments’ in community with other artists as we sing, play, act, and serve together.

7.​ What things about the church frustrate you?
People. Me! I am frustrated by what happens when we forget the command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul, your mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It breaks my heart when we fail to treat people made in the image of God with the dignity and love they deserve, when we become more about judgment than redemption and healing, and when we fail to honor God the way He deserves. (Ezekiel 36:21 - "For I have concern for the honor of my name.")

8. What has been your greatest discovery about ministry that affects the way you serve/lead)?
My daily walk with God powers everything else I do. It is the closeness of my relationship with Christ that leads me away from sin, toward humility, away from a need for significance, toward loving and serving people. My love for Him fuels my worship and keeps it from being about me. Whatever else I am called to be or do, I am first called to be a follower of Jesus. When I get that right, a lot of other things tend to follow.

9. What are your thoughts on intergenerational worship?
I love it. Scripture never paints a picture of ‘cool’ worship, or just ‘edgy’ worship. It paints a picture of old men teaching their children, of children respecting their elders, of young men bringing their passion and strength to the kingdom while the elderly share their wisdom. One generation declares to the next the faithfulness and the greatness of God. I think we do a grea​t​ disservice to people when we only choose ‘relevance’ (which I believe is still important) over​ ​substance and depth. Intergenerational worship paints a picture of the model scripture presents​ ​to us. I used to have two great aunts who were both in their late 90’s. Watching them sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” after 90 years of knowing God would wreck you. They could sing it in a way​ ​that I never could in my 20’s.

10. Please describe your theology/philosophy of worship.
C.S. Lewis wrote that worship is ‘responding to something that we love,.’ Tozer wrote that ‘worship rises and falls with our concept of God.’ When the writers of scripture call us to worship God, they are inviting us to come and see Him for who He really is. They are inviting to enter into ‘right thinking’ about who He is. When we see God for who He is, and when we truly recognize who Christ is and what He has done, the natural response of our hearts will be awe and wonder and thanksgiving and conviction of sin and a desire to obey. When we see God our response will be to worship. Isaiah 6 is a great illustration of this. When Isaiah sees the Lord, “high and lifted up,” even though he is the most righteous man of his generation, He falls to the ground and is undone, both by God’s holiness and by His sin. He in turn responds in awe and surrender to God, saying, “Here I am God, send me.” God is Holy, He is just, He is righteous and merciful, and He is perfect in every way we could describe. He is worthy of our worship, and scripture repeatedly calls us to worship Him with our voices, with instruments, with our lives. If we don’t worship the rocks will cry out. The very heavens declare the glory of God. The angels can’t stop crying, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And the multitudes around the throne can’t stop proclaiming, “Worthy, Worthy, Worthy is the Lamb. And God longs for our authentic, heartfelt worship. In Ezekiel 36:21, God tells the people, “I have concern for the Honor of my name.” Real worship involves proclaiming the honor of His name, sometimes in song and always through our lives. Real worship is expressed in how we live. God also desires that we worship Him because of what He knows it will do in us. It is His gift to us. Scripture consistently shows God calling us to worship in His presence so that he might release, redeem, renew and restore us. But how we ‘honor’ Him, how we worship Him, matters as well…

The verse that most informs my thoughts about worship leading is Isaiah 29:13, which says,
“This people draw near with their words and honor me with their lip service, but you remove your hearts far from me, and your worship of me consists of tradition learned by rote.” Does this sound like any church service you’ve ever been in? Jesus quotes this verse in the New Testament while talking to the Pharisees, and follows it with the words, “In vain do you worship Me.” Jesus says, “If your heart is not in this, don’t bother. If your worship only consists of mindless words, then you clearly don’t realize who I am, you have clearly missed the moment. God desires that we honor Him authentically, genuinely, emotionally, from our hearts and with our lives.Therefore, I think the key job of a worship leader is not to just be relevant, or to do the latest song, or to model a particular style, although all of these things are legitimate concerns when they are placed in context. The main calling of a worship leader is to facilitate and assist in the process of helping people move from ‘worship’ that comes from our lips and from unengaged hearts to worship that flows from hearts that are captivated and amazed and in awe of who God is and what He has done. Anyone can lead songs. A worship leader is called to help people engage their hearts with God. When we do, worship will move from our songs to becoming the expression of our lives. When hearts are engaged in genuine worship, then God is honored. When hearts are engaged with God, then He can speak and we are in a place to listen. When hearts are engaged His Holy Spirit is free to move in us like at no other time. He is set free to change us. And He in turn is blessed by our offering. (Malachi 1). We are called as worship leaders to create places for God and His people to come together, where He can move in us and where we honor His name.

11. How would you describe your worship leading style (on the platform)?
I’ve seen worship leaders that are ‘performers,’ (which I don’t mean negatively) – they are usually great artists who can lead great concerts, whose focus is on their worship experience and what is going on between them and God. The audience is invited to watch, to sing along, or engage however they feel led, but they are not the main concern of the worship ‘performer.’ My favorite worship leaders, however, are the worship ‘facilitators.’ Their main goal - from the keys of the songs, to the comments they make, to the songs they lead, and even their focus on the stage – is to ‘facilitate’ the experience of the people that are in the congregation. They see themselves as ‘ushers’ who are there to invite people into the sanctuary to show people a seat in the presence of God. Everything these leaders do is designed to facilitate the experience of those they are leading. Darlene Zschech is a great example of a facilitator. So is Tommy Walker. When you work with them, everything they do is about helping the worshippers move from ‘song times’ into times of genuine worship. My desire is to facilitate worship for the people I’m leading…Whether it is rockin’ or tender, whether I am singing or praying or reading scripture or telling a story, my desire is to use whatever tools I have to paint people a great picture of God, to help them see God for who He is, and to help their hearts become engaged with the truth and the emotion of what they are singing so that they respond in worship from their hearts and with their lives.

12. What do you need from the pastor in order to create an effective corporate worship experience?
Mostly I need lead time and a little bit of information about where he is trying to lead people on a given week. This is sometimes difficult for pastors who always feel under the gun from their programming teams. In past situations, I have taken the responsibility to set up meetings where we can gather creative people who can help the pastor determine great series or teaching topics for the next 4 months. The pastor has the benefit of getting some great creative minds in the room, and the programming people walk away with the information and the time they need to go create strong services. The teams I have led have always aimed to create our services about 4 weeks ahead of time. This gives us time to create something, to build a set, to write something or paint something, to rehearse a drama, choreograph a dance, create musical tracks, or to accomplish something we could never do in a few days. It enables us to get music or scripts to our artists at least 3 weeks ahead of time so that they come in with their material learned, often memorized, and prepared to rehearse. With a little bit of information we can design services where the programming can create moments and worship that can prepare hearts for what the pastor is speaking about. We can raise questions or create wonder or longing that opens people’s hearts to want more. They are prepared to hear what the pastor is going to say. It also helps when the pastor has some sense of what it takes to write, arrange, learn and prepare a program and is sensitive to what it does to the team when there are last minute changes. It doesn’t mean this can’t happen! It just means that if it happens frequently there are probably ways we can address that so we limit how often this takes place.

13. Who have been key influencers in your life and why?
Dan Webster, head of Authentic Leadership, Inc., took me under his wing when I took my first ministry and programming position at Willow Creek. Dan mentored me as a leader, as a teacher, as a team builder and as a pastor. He gave me opportunities to fail, then to get up and learn and try again, yet always breathing into me that God had uniquely gifted me to do what I do. My parents, who modeled for me what it means to love Christ more than anything else, to love people, and to love the Church, even when it is imperfect. Nancy Beach taught us what it means to re-capture the arts for the church, and to do it in community with people we love. Bill Hybels taught me that lost people matter to God and that excellence in the Church is an awesome thing.

Client Testimonials

  • I had the pleasure of working with Joe in several different levels of interaction over the last almost twenty years, and consider him one of the most gracious and humble servants of God I've had the pleasure of knowing. Before I ever joined staff at Willow Creek, I sought him out and he freely gave of his time, answering every question I had about what it meant to be a worship leader. After I joined staff as the next-generation worship director, he was always available to bounce ideas, solve a problem, or just to listen. As I became the church's associate music director, he helped find opportunities for me to work in my greatest areas of giftedness, and as I became his partner as worship leader he treated me as his equal -- if not better -- and worked together to serve the church without the slightest hint of ego. Joe taught me everything he knew and vice versa, as he opened himself up to new areas of worship, music and ways of leading. After I moved on, I watched Joe assemble a group of talented musicians and form them into passionate worshipers and leaders. His heart has always been for those he serves and Christ's Church, building into and releasing people to perform at the highest level of proficiency with the greatest level of humility. If I were launching a ministry from scratch or taking over the largest existing ministry in the world, there is no one I would want by my side more than Joe Horness. To replicate his heart and knowledge in the people of my ministry is the greatest gift I could give that congregation. Quite simply, the man is a gift.

    Matt Shepardson
  • Though I grew up in the church, I would say that until I met Joe Horness I hadn't really experienced a TRUE worship leader. The man has changed my life as a church musician, and I know he has affected countless others the same way. My whole approach to planning and leading worship was forever altered after time spent working with and under him. My concept of how a church music ministry should function has also been permanently altered - with regard to leadership, community, grace, training up the next generation, helping people find their "sweet spot" and always, always keeping in mind the goal: point others to Christ.
    Joe is one of those very rare individuals who is the complete package: instrumentalist, vocalist, song-writer, leader, shepherd, administrator, visionary, encourager.....all infused with Godly character and a true desire to worship God and to help others do the same. I wish I could list all the occasions on which these qualities have impacted and blessed me. I've been blessed to be one of the people he has spent extra time with - instructing, coaching, discussing, encouraging - with regard to the nitty-gritty of planning and leading worship. And I'm so very grateful. I wish for all my worship leader/church musician friends to have this kind of input from this man!

    Paul Langford
    Producer, Recording Artist, Arranger for Chicago Symphony and Disney World
  • I have had the privilege of being mentored by Joe Horness since 2005. I joined the worship team as a volunteer at Bay Pointe Community Church having had no other church experience; this is the church at which I was saved. I became a part of the team very early on in my walk with Christ. Joe recognized that worship would be an integral part of my journey and afforded me opportunities to grow and learn under his tutelage. Having Joe as a mentor and friend has been a life changing experience. He guides, but doesn't 'spoon feed'. He leads, but doesn't demand. He opens our eyes to opportunity but allows us to see them for ourselves. He shares his knowledge freely and selflessly. He encourages ceaselessly and celebrates our successes with us and he also encourages growth within the challenges. He offers invaluable perspective and a tender hearted, Christ centered approach to every situation. ​ ​I recently celebrated my one year anniversary on staff here at Bay Pointe Community Church where I am a worship leader/producer and administrator for the Programming Dept, working directly under Joe. Because of Joe's mentoring and leadership, I am able to not only lead worship at BPCC and guide/develop our large team of volunteers but I am invited often to lead worship elsewhere, at other churches and at conferences. His guidance and teaching are the foundation of all that I do in my ​career.

    Victoria Hughes
    Worship Leader - Bay Pointe Community Church​ ​​​​
  • As a young worship leader from North Carolina, I prayed for many years that God would bring another worship leader in my life that could help grow me in my faith in Christ and my calling of music. Then I met Joe Horness. I had just been hired as a worship leader in Student Ministry at Willow Creek Community Church and was leading worship at one of the weekend services. Joe came up after the service to introduce himself and encouraged me. Over the next three and half years Joe became my mentor when I needed advice, my advocate when I needed experience, and my friend when I needed to talk. That was 15 years ago and he continues to do the same today. Joe Horness bleeds discipleship and humility. He is surrounded by great musicians. One reason is because he is one, and another is because he encourages others in order to bring out the best in them. All of us who have been blessed to be part of Joe’s ministry have been changed for the better.

    Kyle Dillard
    Worship Leader/Songwriter/Pastor
  • I had the privilege of being mentored by Joe Horness for two years from 2004-2006. During those years Joe poured his heart into me, shaping me to become the worship leader and to a large degree the man that I am today. Joe's ability to take the heart for deep engaging worship that God has given him, and translate it in a way that was understandable to a young and very inexperienced worship leader like me was a huge blessing. He taught me a great deal by inviting me to do life with him. We planned worship services together, sought God's direction together, ran rehearsals together, and led congregations into God's presence together. I grew more spiritually, musically and emotionally during those two years working with Joe than at any other point in my life so far.

    When I met Joe I was at a very painful crossroads in my life. I felt as though I had no direction, I was depressed, and I honestly had no idea what God wanted from me. God used Joe's kind, loving and wise guidance and mentoring to bring me through that hard time to a place where I am being used by God to build His kingdom. I now am serving as the worship and music pastor of a church of around 600 people, a congregation that I love dearly. I am happily married, and my wife and I have two beautiful children. Joe's mentoring not only prepared me to be used by God as a worship leader, with all the details that position entails, he also helped prepare me to be a better husband and father. His passion for God, for his wife, for his kids, and for the church is contagious, and I am grateful that I have been able to inherit some of that passion from him during our time together. For anyone who is genuinely looking for a mentor, spiritual guide, role model and friend, there is simply no one more equipped than Joe Horness. Anyone who has an opportunity to be influenced by Joe ought to jump at that chance. It has forever changed me for the better. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like any more information about the time that I spent with Joe.

    Dan DeRushia
    Pastor of Worship and Music
    First Baptist Church, Cambridge MN

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