Archives For December 2011

Top 50 Songs of 2011

December 26, 2011 — Leave a comment

Specifically these are “my favorite songs that I listened to with my wife and kids – cruising in our minivan”.

So it excludes music that’s too heavy/slow/potty-mouthed/grating.

It’s Indie Music for the Masses.

Unlike most “best songs of 2011” all these songs are very listenable/enjoyable. I feel like most lists are trying to earn their indie street cred by trying to list the most obscure bands that no one has ever heard of.

And here are a few bonus lists:

Click “subscribe” at the top of Spotify if you want to add any of the the playlists to your sidebar of lists.

Here are my 50 favorite songs of 2011 (click to play the full list in Spotify):

50 Seryn – Beach Song

49 Washed Out – Amor Fati

48 The Dodos – Black Night

47 Broken Bells – Meyrin Fields

46 Bright Eyes – Shell Games

45 Pepper Rabbit – Dance Card

44 ANR – Stay Kids

43 James Blake – The Wilhelm Scream

42 The Naked And Famous – Young Blood

41 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Nothing But Our Love

40 Young Man – Nothing

39 Death Cab for Cutie – You Are A Tourist

38 Young Galaxy – Cover Your Tracks

37 Geographer – Verona

36 Royal Bangs – TV Tree

35 Tapes ‘n Tapes – Freak Out

34 Alexander – Truth

33 TV On The Radio – Will Do

32 The National – You Were A Kindness

31 Phantogram – Turning Into Stone

30 St. Vincent – Neutered Fruit

29 King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – John Taylor’s Month Away

28 Wye Oak – The Alter

27 Cults – Go Outside

26 MNDR – I Go Away

25 Capital Cities – Safe and Sound


24 Cut Copy – Where I’m Going (click to download for free)


23 Lykke Li – I Follow Rivers


22 Dry the River – No Rest


21 Beirut – Santa Fe


20 Yeasayer – Swallowing the Decibels (click to download for free)


19 My Morning Jacket – Victory Dance


18 Bon Iver – Calgary (right click to download for free)


17 Phantogram – When I’m Small


16 Lykke Li – Love Out Of Lust


15 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (click the black box to play/stop)


14 The Antlers – No Widows (click the black box to play/stop)


13 Beirut – The Rip Tide


12 Digits – Lost Dream (click to download the whole album for free)


11 ANR – It’s Around You (right click to download for free)


10 Phantogram – Don’t Move (click to download for free)


9 Cults – You Know What I Mean


8 Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (click to download for free)


7 King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Bats In The Attic (sorry, couldn’t find this one to stream – you’ll have to listen to it on Spotify)


6 M83 – Midnight City


5 Active Child – Hanging On (click to download for free)


4 Lana Del Rey – Video Games (click the black box to play/stop)


3 Geographer – Kites


2 Bon Iver – Holocene


1 Wye Oak – ‘Civilian’ (click to download for free)


What were your favorite songs of 2011? What did I miss?


Top 10 Albums of 2011

December 15, 2011 — 4 Comments

It’s the most wonderful time of they year – time for everyone to release their “Best of 2011” lists. I hope to post a few different posts:

  • Top 10 Albums of 2011
  • Top 50 Songs of 201
  • Top Books of 2011
  • Top Thoughts from 2011
  • Top Posts of 2011

Today’s Best of 2011 list:

Top 10 Albums of 2011


It’s been a good, not great year for albums. It’s hard to top last year’s trifecta of Sufjan, Arcade Fire, and The National (here is my Top Albums list from last year)

Really this year there’s one great album – Bon Iver – and 9 good albums. One theme this year (at least in my top 10) seems to be albums that sound like they were made in a different era:

  • King Creosote – the 1800’s in Scotland
  • Cults – 50’s doo-wop
  • Beirut (though hailing from exotic Arizona) – early 1900’s Italy
  • M83 is straight out of the 80’s
  • My Morning Jacket’s 1970’s classic rock album

Top Albums/Songs lists are great ways to discover new music. You can click on any of the Albums below to listen to the full album, for free, on Spotify. I highly recommend Spotify – it takes about a minute to download (I use the free version) and let’s you listen to practically any song/album in the world for free. PLUS it lets you listen to playlists that your friends make – i.e. – the Top 50 Songs of the Year list I’ll put on there. Just click “subscribe” at the top of Spotify if you want to add anyone’s lists to your sidebar of lists (and you can delete any lists if you later get tired of them).

Quick aside – any song listed for free on here is 100% legal. And I don’t make any money off any of the links or Spotify or anything. I just like connecting friends to good music and good deals.


Top 10 Albums of 2011

#10 My Morning Jacket – Circuital

A few really good songs on this slow-building, classic-rock sounding album. Love the songs Victory Dance, Circuital and You Wanna Freak Out. $5 right now on Amazon.



#9 Beirut – The Rip Tide

I’m pretty sure Beirut is the only band on this list with a flugelhorn and the ukulele as lead instruments. This is the most upbeat, accessible album from a great band.

Two phenomenal songs from the album: Rip Tide, Santa Fe. $5 right now on Amazon.


#8 Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes

Swedish singer songwriter Lykke Li trades bubblegum pop for heartbreak and regret. But it’s toe-tapping heartbreak. You could call it heartbreak pop. $7.99 on Amazon.

Two amazing songs from the album: Love out of Lust, I Follow Rivers.


#7 M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

a. The first double album I’ve ever bought. And it’s not your typical album with long stretches of instrumental music. M83 has had great songs in the past but I’ve found their albums to be a little painful to endure. But this album never drags and feels like a cohesive whole – a great 80’s indie pop album.

Midnight City is topping many people’s best song of 2011 lists (definitely in my top 10)


#6  The Antlers – Burst Apart

Kind of a downer of an album – but a great, moving album. $5 on Amazon.

Get the two most popular songs (though No Widows is my favorite) off the album for free on Amazon:

I Don’t Want Love

Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out


#5 Cults – Cults

The doo-wop vibe eventually wears a bit thin at times but it has 5-6 really incredible, addictive songs on it. Great pop-rock. $5 right now on Amazon.


#4 St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

Angst filled, passionate music throughout. Great hooks, great turn of phrase, great music. Only $5 right now on Amazon

Get one of the songs from the album for free – Surgeon (right click to download).


#3 King Creosote & Jon Hopkins-Diamond Mine

King Creosote transports you to another time with his beautiful Scottish songs. Great for the gray days of winter.


#2 Wye Oak – Civilian

Reminds me of a female version of The Nationals – dark, moody and great. Give this one some time – it will grow on you. $5 right now on Amazon

Get the best song on the album (and . . . SPOILER ALERT! . . . as you’ll see on my top songs post, my favorite song of 2011!) – Civilian – for free on Amazon.


#1 Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Without a doubt the best album of 2011. I never jumped on the Bon Iver bandwagon when their first album – For Emma, Forever Ago – swept the indie world. It was too slow and sparse for my tastes. But every song on Justin Vernon’s sophomore effort is amazing.

Get one of the best songs on the album, Calgary (right click to save), for free from Pitchfork.

Click below to listen to the entire album for free (so you can be convinced you need to buy it – $4.99 right now on Amazon):



Two Honorable Mention EP’s

  • Phantogram – Nightlife – I just wish this were full length – every song is REALLY good.
    • Get the incredibly good, best song on the album for free – Don’t Move (right click to download)


What were your favorite albums of 2011?

The Leadership Pledge

December 15, 2011 — 2 Comments

Continuing a series of posts on putting together a Spring Gameplan. Click to read Post #1 on our Timeline for the Spring and #2 on a couple of shifts we made to better raise up a reaching freshmen team.


One of the most effective things we did last Spring was something we dubbed the Leadership Pledge.

Hopefully it’s helpful, if only for the thorough description of how to set up a good 5 Things Discussion (at the bottom of the post).


Here’s how the Leadership Pledge worked:

  • We had a speaker from the Travelling Team speak at our first Cru of the spring on how God has used college students to change the world.
  • After the talk I stood up and gave a short 3 minute challenge to the effect of:
    • Hudson talked about young people who have been used greatly by God
    • They put their yes on the table
    • This semester you have things pulling for your time and attention
    • Will you allow God to use you in the lives of students around you?
    • Would you be willing to be used by God here at the U of A?
    • Hudson asked the question, “will you be used by God?
    • If you’re willing to say yes to that, please sign your name
    • That you would lead on this campus for God
    • If you sign your name, one of our staff or student leaders will meet with you one on one to help you figure out how you can lead for God on this campus
      • If you have a vision for how God can use you here, we’d love to hear it and help you use your passions for God
      • Or if this is a new idea and you’re still trying to figure out how God is going to use you in your next 2, 3 or 4 years on campus, we’d love to come alongside you and help you figure out your next step.
    • Don’t check it if you don’t want to talk to a staff!
  • We passed out VERY simple cards and gave students a minute in silence to sign if they wanted to.


What we did for follow up:

  • We trained staff and key student leaders in how to use the 5 Things – what to say to start the conversation (after small talk), what parts to emphasize, what questions to skip, etc (for more on that, I included detailed notes at the bottom of the post)
  • We made a Google Doc with all who signed the Pledge and let trained student leaders and staff assign themselves to follow up with students
  • We set up 1on1 appointments with every student who signed. Ideally, we take a student we’re discipling to do the appointment with us (Because we want to connect these students to other key leaders. So it will be 2 on 1)
  • The Goal of the appointment – Give them vision for living missionally using the 5 Things pamphlet and find out where they’re at in regard to that
  • Actions Steps  –
  • If you discern that they’re not ready to lead (spiritually, socially, maturity, etc) – Strongly encourage them to get in a Community Group where they can grow (help them find a group that works for them)
  • If they could be a Key Leader:
    • Job 1: Get a 2nd appt with them
    • Job 2: Use your discernment as to the next step.  You’re options (in order of priority):
      • Get them on Leadership Retreat (say, “I’ll bring you next week”)
      • Invite them to Leadership Hour (say, “I’ll bring you next week”)
      • Invite them to M29 Evangelism-Track


A couple notes:

  • We intentionally didn’t put Cru anywhere on the Pledge card nor did we push Cru when we met one-on-one. We really hope to be able to help students connect with God’s mission, not ours.
  • The 5 Things is really good at setting up all that Cru offers.
    • For example, it clearly communicates the need for equipping. “So you want to be equipped? We just happen to do a weekly equipping time on Tuesday nights you should check out!”
    • It keeps a Kingdom focus and then we offer Cru as a solution to helping students make an impact for the Kingdom, which is exactly our role. Getting “plugged into Cru” is not the end, but a means to an end- equipping and mobilizing laborers for God’s glory.


Here’s what we did to equip our staff and student leaders to lead a 5 Things Discussion (I think this is pretty helpful):

  • The 5 Things is a pamphlet designed to help students figure out what it would look like for them to have an impact for God on campus and for the rest of their life
  • Click to view the trainer’s guide on Facilitating 5 Things Discussions
  • Don’t have an appointment until you read thru the trainer’s guide and are comfortable going thru it
  • The best way to open the conversation (included in the guide):
    • “I’d like to go over 5 key principles that when applied to your life help you figure out what it would look like for them to have an impact for God on campus. And not only that but I believe these 5 things lay the foundation for knowing and serving God for a lifetime.”
    • Before you get into The 5 Things, talk about Surrender (there’s a how-to on that in the Guide). I would use the verse – “you are not your own – you have been bought with a price” I Cor. 19-20 and ask some of the questions from the guide
    • Before you get into the first Thing – Kingdom Vision, I would steal some of the content from the Discipleship Challenge and ask:
      • Before we get into our vision for our lives, what do you think is God’s vision for our lives as believers?
      • His final words on earth are found in Matt 28:18-20 – let’s look at that
      • That is God’s will for all Christians that they would spend their life making disciples of all nations
      • So any plan we have for our lives needs to fit into this greater plan

Shifts in Focus in the Spring

December 14, 2011 — 4 Comments

part 2 of 3 in a series on Spring Ministry – click here to read posts 1 & 3

Yesterday I shared our Spring Timeline – our game plan for the entire spring semester.

The conviction behind it is this: The spring is the time to get your “reaching-freshmen-team” together and everything you do in the spring should contribute to assembling this team of leaders.

So last year we took a hard look at our spring and thought through what we needed to drop and what needed to add so that when August rolled around we would have a huge team of equipped students who want to invest themselves in reaching the freshmen class. Increasing our leadership base both in quantity and quality.

So here’s some changes we made in terms of:



We stopped passing out FSK’s in the first week of the spring. I may get kicked off Cru staff for saying that. FSK’s are a Cru staple- a laundry bag filled with a Bible, a book, and some other swag- that we pass out in order to do spiritual interest surveys and generate new contacts.

  • But Staff and student leaders have limited time. And we decided that we could either invest our first 3 weeks of the spring in following up FSK contacts OR spend our first 3 weeks surfacing the next generation of leaders. It’s definitely a tradeoff.
  • But we have a semester worth of new people who attend our weekly meeting. Instead of running around crazy trying to turn over new rocks, why not invest heavily in those who are already in our ministry.
  • I’ll share tomorrow one of the primary things that helped us surface that next generation of leaders – the Leadership Pledge.



In thinking through what new CG leaders have to be good at, we arrived at this:

  • Primarily they need to be good at doing follow ups and initiating with freshmen. They need to be gospel pursuers. And we’d love for them to be adept at this before the craziness of the first weeks of the fall
    • So during the second half of the spring, we committed to taking every new Community Group leader (who will be leading a study in the fall) out to share their faith at least once (preferably twice).
  • Second, they need to know how to lead a study
    • We required all new Community Group Leaders to take a 5 week course- “How to Lead a Bible Study”
  • Third, they need to be good leaders
    • We implemented an application to lead and a one page leader expectation sheet
    • Staff interviewed every applicant one-on-one and had hard conversations with those who may not be quite ready to lead a study
The result?
Last spring was we doubled the number of Community Group leaders compared to the year before (without sacrificing quality) which has resulted in a lot more freshmen’s lives being changed this fall!


What do you think about staff focusing on raising up laborers the first 3 weeks of spring instead of a more outreach focus?

photo courtesy of ihtatho

Spring Timeline

December 13, 2011 — 5 Comments

part 1 of 3 in a series on Spring Ministry – click here to read the follow up posts 2 & 3

We just wrapped up planning for Spring 2012 and one of my favorite things we did is lay out a timeline for the spring. I know many campuses lay out a detailed timeline for the first four weeks of the fall.

In many ways I think the spring is more important to get a timeline down than the fall.

When it comes to the fall, it’s all about manpower. If it’s just your staff team and 4 student leaders pursuing freshmen, you have a long road ahead of you. But if you line up 60 students in the spring who will focus on reaching freshmen, the fall will be good.

So the spring is the time to get your “reaching-freshmen-team” together. And to build consensus that we MUST reach freshmen.

And all this happens largely by raising up as many Community Group Leaders as possible.

So everything you do in the spring should contribute to assembling this team of leaders (tomorrow I’ll share some of the changes we made to be more focused on this with our spring).

So here’s our playbook for the spring. Not all of it will make sense or be helpful. But I’m hoping it helps give you ideas and you can take what we’re doing and improve on it.

I’d love to see what your timeline looks like for your campus – share it in the comments below or send it to me.

Also – if you want more details on any of this please either comment or email me: Tim dot Casteel at


Here are our key dates for the spring:

  • Jan 16 – MLK day – Staff planning all day
  • Jan 17 – First Cru & M29 [our weekly leadership and equipping time]
    • At M29: Vision for Reaching Freshmen and planning for the spring
    • At Cru: Talk on “Challenge to Reach the Campus”
      • Leadership Pledge – interested students sign a card saying “I want to be used by God at the University of Arkansas”
  • Jan 18-Feb 1 – Staff and student leaders make it their top priority to follow up on one-on-one with Leadership Pledge students – using the 5 Things
  • Jan 24 – Start M29 equipping levels (how can these levels contribute to reaching freshmen?)
    • Leadership Development
    • How to share your faith
  • Jan 27 – Leadership Retreat (how can this contribute to reaching freshmen?)
  • Month of February – staff are meeting with students to challenge them to lead Bible studies for the fall
  • Feb 2 – At staff meeting, Staff team brainstorms potential Community Group leaders for the fall
  • Feb 21 –
    • Cru Talk on leading Community Groups at Cru
    • At M29 – Vision for the importance of Community Groups
      • Student leaders recommend students they would think would be good to lead community groups in the fall
      • Students can start applying to lead a community group for the fall
  • March 1 – Community Group leader Application Deadline
  • March 6 – Start second set of M29 levels
    • 5 week training at M29 on how to lead a Bible study (mandatory for all CG applicants)
  • March 19-23      Spring Break
  • April 1 – *** Have Community Group Leaders for the Fall nailed down ***
  • April 2, 3, & 5
    • Staff Planning for the Fall from 9-noon
      • Where we take care of “early planning for the fall” – stuff that needs to be planned before May so students can be aligned before they leave
  • April 17 & 24
    • Planning with our student leaders for the fall (we do this in place of M29 the last 2 weeks in the Spring)
      • Crucial for getting student ownership
      • Students plan and volunteer to lead things for the Fall (Student Joe – in charge of dorm #1 cookout; who’s on Joe’s team to help him make that happen?)
  • April 22 – Men’s/Women’s dinner for new Community Group leaders (for vision and to connect)
  • May 1 – Legacy Dinner (end of year party to send out graduating seniors and honor CG leaders)
  • May 4 – Dead Day
  • Staff Planning for Fall (5 days) à Thursday May 3, Mon-Thurs, May 7-10

photo courtesy of  midmophil

Money to Fund the Mission

December 12, 2011 — 1 Comment

Mark Driscoll tweeted this weekend about a video in which he describes THE game changer in the history of Mars Hill.

A single thing that took them from 40 people to 800. A turning point that made the difference between their church shutting down and being the global influence that it is today through the Acts29 Network and Mark Driscoll’s teaching.

It wasn’t hiring a key staff. Putting on a big outreach. Giving a great sermon. Getting a new website. Him yelling at a bunch of men (that was a different video).

It was money.

A gift from a generous couple – a $200,000 gift that was 100x greater than any gift they’d ever received.

As ministry leaders we spend countless hours thinking through how to reach more people with the gospel. We plan ways to raise up new leaders. Get excited about new books/ideas that could be gamechangers. Dream of new websites that will singlehandedly reach the campus with the gospel. But we rarely think of money.

We just finished a week of planning and money didn’t come up once. I like to think that we can just suck it up and make do with what we have. I rarely, if ever, think “if we had all the money we needed, what would be the most effective way to reach this campus?”


Bill Hybels in his book Courageous Leadership calls the lead pastor (and in my case Campus Director) the CRR (Chief Resource Raiser).

He recalls when he first realized the necessity of money to fund the mission: “my romance with the notion of building an Acts 2 church had blinded me to the harsh realities of funding one.”

He goes on to say:

Theologian RC Sproul once asked me how much ministry I thought I could do for a hundred bucks. I assumed he was hoping for some deep theological response, but before I could think of one he answered the question himself, “You can do about a hundred dollars worth.” He was simply making the point that a fruitful ministry requires resources.

Be as theological as you want to be, but the church will never reach her full redemptive potential until a river of financial resources starts flowing in her direction. And like it or not, it is the leader’s job to create that river and to manage it wisely.


I just wonder what would change if our ministries and staff were abundantly funded. Imagine what God could do.


photo courtesy of Sprengben