What are we Communicating?

Picture a teacher standing before a classroom full of students who are all on the edge of their seats, captivated and mulling on every word that is spoken. What a great responsibility that teacher holds! The words the say and the things they do can shape a child’s education permanently. Now picture what we as worship leaders and teams do each and every week before our congregations. We are much like that teacher we just described, we hold a massive responsibility each and every week to demonstrate, model, and educate our congregations in true “God-pleasing” worship.

Below I have listed some thoughts on how we can better communicate and model the attitude of a Biblical worshipper from the stage weekly. Be sure to note that this blog post isn’t about what our song selections communicate… that is a whole separate topic that can be expected within the next few weeks. Anyways… let’s get going! 

Is it apparent that worship brings us joy? 

I don’t know how many times I have watched back footage of myself on stage leading worship and noticed that I do not look happy at all, or had my lovely Grandma look me dead in the eye and say, “try smiling more… at least look happy to have the opportunity to lead worship.” How encouraging does an unhappy or emotionally dead worship leader or team member look to a newcomer to our worship services? Psalm 84 makes it clear in the first two verses that naturally our worship should be filled with joy.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes,  faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” -Psalm 84:1-2

We shouldn’t fake joy… our worship should naturally be filled with joy if we truly understand and believe what we are singing and who we are singing to. Do you believe the words you sing? Seek the Lord and pray diligently that you enter into worship joyfully and express that joy in a natural, authentic, and contagious way. Your congregations attitude towards worship starts with you… model it for them.

Inclusion Worship isnt a spectator sport.

There are several ways to make people feel included and there are just as many things that have the opposite affect. Everyone has a friend who sings loudly in the car to every song that comes on the radio… even if they don’t know the majority of the words. Don’t turn your congregations into that friend. It’s typically a good idea to not introduce too many new songs too quickly. Not every person in our congregations is “up-to-speed” by our opinion on modern worship and really the only time they may hear “church music” is when they are at church. We as worship leaders should acknowledge that and allow our congregations time to learn the songs that we sing.

Another way to connect our congregations to the songs that we sing is to choose keys that they CAN sing! Being a natural tenor I’m guilty of messing this concept up more than any other person I know… but we must remember to choose easily singable keys. I’m definitely not saying not to make your congregations put forth an effort. I personally prefer to pick songs and keys that don’t strain people, but also songs that don’t allow them to just mumble along without putting forth any effort to sing and worship at all. Most of us probably don’t lead worship for a church full of professional singers so we shouldn’t hold them to those expectations.

Are we demonstrating excellence?

We also must be aware of how we are representing ourselves and the God in which we worship from stage. It becomes apparently clear when a group of musicians, whether it’s a church band or a local group, is prepared or not prepared for a “set” or group of songs they are going to play in front of people. Do we take our corporate worship time seriously? If we do then we must pursue excellence in that area. The better our worship sounds isn’t necessarily going to please God any more or less… but it models something for our congregations. We as believers should pursue excellence in every area of our lives because we are doing all things for the glory of our God.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” -Colossians 3:23

So… what are we communicating?

Be prepared to lead worship. Worship joyfully. Bring others alongside you in worship to our God.

 

 

 

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When does Another Chorus become too much Chorus?

Think back to a time in worship where just as you were connecting with a certain song it suddenly came to a close. Bummer right? But now think back to a time where you sang a song to death and the worship leader or team continued to repeat the song in its entirety or just a single chorus over and over while your singing became less enthusiastic and your thumb twiddling and fidgeting became more aggressive. Which is worse? As worship pastors and team members we walk a fine line between “not enough” and “way too much.”

As a worship pastor it can be hard to be “in the moment” but yet remain conscious of what we are doing and our purposes or motives behind our actions. We must surrender ourselves to the Lord and the guidance of the Spirit in our leading, but remain vigilant and discerning of what is happening around us. To whom much is given much can certainly be expected.

In what ways can we as leaders equip ourselves to follow the Spirit where it leads in worship and prevent the common “overplayed” chorus. Below I will provide a few ideas, this list definitely isn’t exhaustive but I have found these particular methods to be effective.

  • Be open to be flexible.

As lead worshippers we sculpt a service by what we say and do. We must be open to be flexible and be prepared to pursue the Lord where He leads us. In the end, worship isn’t about us anyways. Being flexible may mean cutting a particular song last minute that we rehearsed perfectly, or that fits our particular voice wonderfully. We may not get to play that killer lick that we worked so diligently to learn. It’ okay. Be faithful to follow… although we are labeled as leaders we are really just the lead followers in God’s eyes, shepherds to His sheep.

  • Change it up.

Sure, we can repeat choruses! I have done it many times myself actually, but we need to be able to allow our congregations time to think about what they are singing and not just give them amble opportunity to learn a particular melody or a few lines to a song with little or no thought. The same chorus doesn’t have to always be played or repeated in the same way. A few good ways of repeating a chorus or section of a song without it becoming monotonous is to change the way we are playing it. Build a “soundscape” or provide variety through the way you play. Get comfortable with your team and be easy to follow. Possibly, go a cappella for a time or allow the instruments to slow or decrease in volume until a time comes to build back up. Create a “moment” as a dear seminary professor of mine would say.

  • Be prepared for the unexpected.

You may ask… how does this even make sense? I can’t be prepared for something that I am unaware of or not expecting. In this case I think you can be. Know more songs than just what you are playing in a particular week. I prefer to memorize songs for my services so that I can come back to them as needed without rummaging through a binder, music stand, or filing cabinet. We also need to prepare ourselves and our teams to follow the Spirit by making song keys well known before each service so that everyone is on the same page if a sudden change is made, or a song needs to be added to a service. Having backup or “pocket” songs or choruses in each key is also not a bad idea so in most cases our team members can have an idea of where we are going before we even go there. Remember to equip your media and technical teams for these situations as well.

  • Use Scripture.

This may seem extremely obvious, and I hope that it does, but too often we lace our statements made in transition or throughout our worship services with “nifty” little sayings or “church talk” that literally means nothing to most people. Beautiful speech without the Gospel does nothing to affect lives. Use the Word of God to bring to light the Gospel found throughout the songs that we sing and the Words that we say. The Bible can speak for itself if we would only make room and let it. The practical side of this is something that scares most people, but we need to learn and memorize the Word of God. We must “store up the Word in our hearts” as the Psalmist says in 119. The use of Scripture in our worship services and structures creates an opportunity to plan scripture guided worship services instead of “trendy” or culturally relevant ones. Seek to lead out songs that portray and shape the Gospel correctly for your congregation week in and week out and use the Gospel throughout to bring to light the messages in the songs that we sing and how they point us to Christ.

  • Be discerning.

With the job of leading worship comes many responsibilities. We must be aware of the Spirit while remaining aware of our environment. We can tell when our congregations have just had “enough” of a song or chorus and when they are truly connecting. We must worship God in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:24) and lead others in that type of worship. We must be discerning of what is happening around us. We can plan all we want, but this is where the rubber meets the road. Seek God diligently in your personal worship time and in your planning time for services. Ask God to invade every aspect of your worship and be faithful to follow Him. When we seek the Lord and truthfully desire His guidance we can lead with the confidence that He will lead and guide us according to His will.

 

Ultimately, God’s desire is to use us according to His purposes, and we must be willing, available, and faithful to follow Him wherever He leads. Let’s commit ourselves to being uncomfortable for His name’s sake and not just settling for another chorus. Let’s not take the easy way out by thoughtlessly playing the same thing in the same way time after time. Let’s also commit ourselves to placing the needs and preferences of our congregations above our own, and to challenging them through the Gospel and the songs that we sing.

What are we Worshipping?

Worship is a word that litters the lips of many throughout the church and our culture today, but I’d go out on a limb to say that many people have an an improper understanding of what the word really means and entails. The use of the word isn’t an issue, but the direction in which it points many people creates a misunderstanding or problem. By definition, worship means to ascribe a certain amount of worth to something or someone. Worship isn’t limited to a time or place. Worship doesn’t have to contain particular elements like music or singing. True worship is a matter of the heart. Knowing this can cause many to become uncomfortable when a little light is directed into their “worship” lives revealing all of the misplaced worth and adoration.

Many of us after reading just the title or opening paragraph of this blog may think to ourselves, “I’m fine… I don’t worship idols like they did in the Bible. I have no golden calves or Buddhas scattered around my home or life. I’m all good.” This in itself is a dangerous thought. We live in a culture filled with worship pollution. We idolize athletes, musicians, and actors. We pursue the latest and greatest of technology and fashion. Heck, we even have a show that claims to create “American Idols” out of average people. Keith Hudson, Pastor and Father of American Pop sensation Katy Perry, had this to say about misplaced worship in a recent interview, “I was at a concert of Katy’s where there were 20,000. I’m watching this generation, and they were going at it. It was almost like church. I stood there and wept and kept on weeping and weeping. They’re loving and worshipping the wrong thing.”

You see, every human being was designed to worship and does worship something in their lives. Worship is not difficult. Pastor Mark Driscoll says, “The human heart is an idol factory.”  Consider an avid group of sports fans that never miss a game… they worship. Consider a group of music lovers that know every word to their favorite artists songs… they worship. What about the “trendy” dresser who is always the first to hop on board the new fashion wave… they worship. Our hearts are quick to worship food, sports, arts, music, and other cultural trends. Too easily we fall into the worship of power, work, relationships, comfort, money, fame, and success… but God calls us to worship Him and Him alone. He commands it, pursues it, desires it, and more importantly He deserves it.

Jesus says in Luke 4:8, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.”’ John 4:23 emphasizes that the Father seeks such worshippers, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

So, when we choose not to worship God we aren’t just choosing not to worship at all because we are in fact created as worshippers… we are actually choosing to neglect our worship of our creator and replace it with worship of the creation. Regardless of what we worship the object of our worship other than Christ will fail to come through for us. Our worship of Christ is never vain. Genuine worship of Christ brings about genuine change. The first step to obedience is to submit in worship. Genuine worship isn’t just singing songs, raising hands, and getting a good emotional feeling. Genuine worship is seeing God for who He really is—His power, His holiness, His greatness, sovereignty, love, and compassion—and then giving Him what He’s worth… our full hearts and lives in an attitude of genuine worship.

So… the question remains. What do you really worship daily?

How to make the most of your Worship Team Rehearsals

Every worship pastor or praise team member can probably look back in their not-so-distant memory and cringe remembering a “bad” or “rough” experience at a group rehearsal. Practicing together can be a dividing issue among many praise teams and can cause unnecessary complications for worship leaders.

Psalm 33:3 commands several things from us as worshippers… it says, “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

Skillfully. 

Merriam-Webster defines skillful as: having the training, knowledge, and experience that is needed to do something well.

In other words, practice and rehearsal is needed. End of story.

Frankly, I don’t know if we as worship leaders can ever really get our teams to want to practice week in and week out. That ball is completely in God’s court. In the meantime, there are several things we can do to make our rehearsals as painless and effective as possible.

1) Get content out in advance and allow our teams adequate time to prepare.

Let’s face the facts… most churches aren’t going to pay every musician and vocalist making it absolutely necessary for our team members to work everyday jobs. That being said we cannot expect them to be able to dive head first into our weekly sets the day they receive the content from us. In order for us to be effective as worship leaders we must work ahead and coordinate our services well and in a timely manner. Personally I try to stay planned at least two weeks in advance in order to give my team members time to become familiar with the songs and hone their craft for each song in particular.

2) Place emphasis on coming to practice prepared to rehearse together.

Band rehearsal time is not time for someone to “learn” the song or tune. Band rehearsal is for rehearsing together… as a band. Song learning and individual practice should take place individually and prior to group rehearsals. The more we and our teams prepare in advance the faster it is going to come together in rehearsal and the better it will sound. In other words, everyone should enter into rehearsal already knowing the music and having practiced it at some point before. This will make group rehearsals a lot more efficient and painless for everyone involved.

3) Know what you want the songs to sound like.

Coming in to rehearsal without a clue of what we desire our finished product to be is like an inventor trying to create an invention with no idea in mind of what he wishes to create. This does not mean we have to sound exactly like any particular artist. Every praise team has their own soundscape and we should embrace that. But, we should have enough of the finished product in mind that we can guide and direct our teams effectively in rehearsal.

4) Communicate your vision.

We should seek to be great communicators. Personally I know that my team has no mind readers on it… that being said I have to be able to communicate what I want or what I am hearing in a timely manner that is easy to understand. Nothing causes more stress than a breakdown in communication. We must know our teams, know what we want, and express it!

5) Don’t practice songs wrong!

This may sound obvious but we all have fallen to the temptation to just talk about the changes we want to make in or to a song when it comes time to play it again instead of running through it again… correctly. The way we rehearse is the way we will play when it counts. It is imperative that we rehearse our songs cleanly and correctly in the right keys and at the right tempos. Slight variances will happen on occasion but if we make it a habit to rehearse things incorrectly then it will bite us eventually.

6) Seek perfection but know your limitations.

As leaders we desire to be the best we can be and we wish the same for our teams. We are called to play skillfully and to lead effectively. But, more importantly we are called to be great worshippers. We must continuously practice and work to hone our crafts and abilities to better serve the body and honor our God. While we seek perfection we must know our limitations. I am not saying that we should limit ourselves… but we have to be realistic. My team isn’t going to sound like a carbon copy of Hillsong United and the church with a single piano and organ isn’t going to sound like my team. We have to accept that. We are called to be great at what we do in the environments that God has placed us at this given time.

Let us work to better glorify Christ and edify our congregations with our worship. A good starting point is in our rehearsals.