When Your Worship Team is Small (Really Small)

1In my post “Four Types of Worship Teams“, I advocated that worship leaders seek to model their worship teams after the picture of the body that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12. This way we avoid the traps/pitfalls/discouragements that come from teams whose members are just filling slots on a schedule, or being in a band for the sake of being in a band, or always trying to get to the top so they can be seen as contributing something important.

But what about when your worship team is really small? You’re scraping by from week to week with a kind gentlemen who knows three guitar chords, a fifth grader who wants to be able to play the drums, your pastor’s wife who can sing soprano, and a high school junior who’s an excellent french horn player.

You don’t look or sound like any of the worship teams you see online or hear on albums. An electric guitar has never crossed the threshold of your sanctuary. The newest song you sing was written in 2001 (and that’s pushing it!). You would be thrilled to add more musicians to the team. You would love to have the problem of having so many musicians that they’re all clamoring to play on Sundays. You wish you had a plethora of people to fill different musical slots.

But those aren’t problems you’re in any danger of dealing with really soon. Right now, you’re discouraged and your team is small. Really small.  Your main problem is trying to keep things afloat, and trying to bring together the limited amount of resources at your disposal to present something relatively cohesive from week to week. It’s not easy.

Remember these truths, oh worship leader with a small (really small) team:

God arranges the members of a body
To draw again from Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:18, don’t forget that “…God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose“. God doles out gifts and arranges members as he sees fit. Make as many invitations to musicians in your congregation to step forward, to audition, and to explore using their gifts in your team. Maybe you’ll get an overwhelming response. Maybe you’ll just get one 60-year-old who can play piano. See who God has placed in your midst. If he hasn’t given you what you want or need yet, then keep praying.

Newness and youth is an overrated idol
So your sound system hasn’t been updated since the 70s, the average age of your worship team is 70, the most people your church has ever had in attendance is 70, and the ideal era of worship songs for most people in your church is 1870. Don’t waste your time trying to be the man or woman who modernizes everything about your church. Focus first on faithfulness, listen well to the hearts of your people, and once your motives are to edify your church, move forward one step at a time. I think worship leaders worry way too much about newness and freshness and contemporariness. Of course we want our church and our ministries to be alive and vibrant, not dead and dormant, but don’t eschew rootedness for the futile pursuit of relevance.

Small worship teams can be incredibly fruitful
Maybe it’s just you on the platform with an old piano that your church can’t afford to tune. Or maybe there are four of you, and if you try to play anything faster than “Shout to the Lord”, the wheels fall off. Your ministry – and the ministry of a small worship team of just a few musicians – can be incredibly fruitful. Fruitfulness doesn’t come from numbers. Fruitfulness is a gift of the Spirit! And when God-empowered, Spirit-manifested, Jesus-centered gifts come together, regardless of the size, then beautiful and fruitful things can happen.

The people who sit in a small church meeting in a high school cafeteria need the same thing as the people sitting in padded seats in a megachurch. They need Jesus. There is absolutely no reason why a small worship team, even if it’s just one person singing along to worship songs off of YouTube, can’t very effectively and fruitfully exalt Jesus in his or congregation’s eyes. Don’t be discouraged if your team is small.

Finally, a practical encouragement:

Keep inviting
One of the most recent additions to the worship team at my church was at our church for about six months before he finally stepped forward. And I’m glad he did! He plays acoustic and bass guitar, and is a wonderfully gifted worship leader. He had heard my pleas for musicians, had read my blurbs in the church newsletter, and finally after hearing me invite people enough, he stepped forward. Never stop inviting those musicians-in-hiding in your church to step forward and explore using their gifts.

One last thing.

Even when you’re just trying to keep things afloat, or fill the slots on a schedule with a fairly small pool of resources, don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re doing it in a vacuum, or that you’re the only worship leader who deals with these problems. The even greater news of 1 Corinthians 12 (verses 4-6) for Christians is that even though there are varieties of gifts, varieties of service, and varieties of activities, we’re all filled with the same Spirit, following the same Lord, and empowered by the same God, even as spread out and different-looking (and sounding) as we are.

Large teams and small teams (even when they’re really small) are all part of God’s grand design for his Body, the Church. This is good and encouraging news.


Four Types of Worship Teams

1This past Wednesday night we had the first “musicians gathering” at my church since I arrived 15 months ago. All of the different instrumentalists and singers who serve at our morning and/or evening services were invited, to what I intend to be the first in a regular/monthly series of get-togethers aimed at community-building, vision-casting, encouragement, and worship-culture shaping.

After munching on cookies and chips and salsa (the evening snack combo of champions), a rousing game of worship song charades, and a time of singing, I shared why we were all coming together like this. It’s definitely not because we all need more meetings, or more things to do, or more obligations. We’re coming together as worship leaders (I intentionally use that term broadly to include everyone who has a musical/audio/leadership role in a service) so that we can become a body.

In my experience with worship teams (either as a member or a leader of one), and in my observations of the worship leading landscape these days, there seem to be four different types of worship teams. Four ways you can go. Four approaches to how to structure, view, and lead a team.

The first type of worship team is just filling slots.

You need a guitarist? Tom is your guitarist. You need another guitarist? Oh, now you have Frank as another guitarist. And this month you need to find another singer to fill a slot. Let’s ask Sally to fill that slot. What about a drummer for the third weekend of the month? That would be Brian’s slot. He’ll be the drummer.

In this type of worship team, its members are names in Planning Center, their contribution is to fill musical slots, and the worship leader’s job is to fill all the slots so that he can have what he needs. If Tom decides to leave the church, nobody on the team really knows or cares, because you just replace him with Andy. Or if your drummer Brian breaks his arm and can’t play drums, the team isn’t really concerned for Brian, but more concerned that they get another drummer to fill Brian’s slot.

No one is being particularly built up, or connected, or encouraged, or cared for. Everyone is a name on a schedule.

The second type of worship team is a band.

You choose a name. You have a lead singer. You have backup singers. You have band members who all look really angry. You tour. You record. You perform. You have photo shoots. You’re cool.

In this type of worship team, the members are mini-celebrities, and the worship leader is the chief-celebrity, who stands about one foot in front of the rest of the band in the photo shoot. When new or less-skilled musicians join your church, their only hope of being involved in the band is if they somehow reach that high bar and wear the right kind of clothes.

This kind of worship team is difficult for the average musician to be a part of. And it’s a challenge to maintain over the long-haul, as members leave, or the budget dries up, or a decade passes and musical fads pass you by.

The third type of worship team is a caste/echelon-system.

There are upper echelons: playing and/or singing in Sunday services. There are middle echelons: youth ministry, retreats, young adults. And there are lower echelons: children’s ministry, seniors, or home groups.

In this type of worship team, members are always trying to climb to the top. Even if it means pushing someone down to get there.

When a more strongly gifted musician joins the church, other musicians are threatened, and have to protect their place in their echelon. Members in the lower echelons don’t believe their gifts matter or are appreciated. And the worship leader is constantly managing egos, dealing with hurt feelings, avoiding giving honest assessment and placement of gifts in the team, and potentially making or breaking someone’s identity simply based on where he schedules people.

The fourth and final type of worship team is a body. And Paul paints a picture of it in 1 Corinthians 12.

To summarize: In a body, there are varieties of gifts and service, but the same Lord. There are different gifts given by the Spirit, but all empowered by that same Spirit. It’s one body, with many members. The different members (like feet and hands) need each other. The different members (like ears and eyes) belong to each other. God arranges the members as he chooses. The weaker members are indispensable. Honor is bestowed upon one another. There is no division. When one member suffers, all suffer. And when one member is honored, all rejoice together.

That’s the kind of worship team I want to build!

But in my first 15 months at Truro, I’ve been filling slots. I’ve been the new guy, getting a lay of the land, getting to know people, auditioning people, orienting myself, plugging holes, and trying to get through all of the major ups and downs that a ministry year contains. And that’s all I could do. But it’s not a long-term ministry model.

I’m not interested (and I know the musicians at my church aren’t either) in just filling slots. Or building a band with a brand. Or managing a caste/echelon system and all of the egos and politics and territories that come with it. That sounds miserable to me. Because it is!

Helping build (and build up) a body is the way to go. It’s a worship team model that will endure.

I would argue that this is the model that will last the longest, include the widest spectrum of ages/experience levels/skill levels, allow for an easier on-ramp for new and/or weaker members, be more sustainable by the congregation itself, last after a worship leader leaves and hands the baton to someone else, and have the kind of spiritual and organizational health that will model something beautiful, humble, and Christ-centered from the platform.

Random musical feet and hands and eyes in a congregation won’t just magically coalesce into the shape of a body like a weird sci-fi movie. God arranges the members, the Spirit empowers the members, and good pastors (and worship leaders) help the Spirit-empowered and God-arranged members function as a healthy body in the way that God designed for the glory of Jesus and the edification of his Church.

Worship leaders: let’s all commit to doing what we can to foster a community of worship leaders at our churches that functions like a body. It’s not always the easiest or most glamorous way to go, but it’s the most fruitful.

Making Jesus Central in Your Family’s Life

1I am not a perfect parent. And I don’t have perfect kids! If you have any doubts about either of these facts, I’ll let you tag along with my family any day of the week and you’ll see that we struggle with the same kinds of problems that other families do.

But from the very beginning of our parenting journey, Catherine and I have made some very deliberate and intentional choices in how we raise our kids, with the goal of helping them to see Jesus as the One at the very center of their lives – and our family’s life too.

At any point in your kids’ life – whether the leash is short with young kids/infants, or the leash is longer with teenagers – you can do things to help exalt Jesus in their eyes. I’ll get to some ways you can do this with music and worship, but first here are some important foundational ways you can help your kids see and savor Jesus Christ.

Jesus as the solution to every problem
There are a wide variety of problems that our kids and families face. From little-kid problems, to big-kid problems, to family problems, and to world problems, parents are constantly helping their kids navigate and respond to problems. As parents, we can see problems as an opportunity to gently, simply, non-dogmatically, yet consistently point them to seeing Jesus as the solution.

Jesus as the protector/defender
There are imagined fears (are there monsters in the closet?). There are real fears (could that tornado I heard about on the radio hit our house?). There are potential fears (what if this happens?, what if that happens?, etc.). My job as a parent is to show my kids that Jesus is Lord, Protector, Defender, and Sovereign over all things. Our security isn’t in a special blanket, or my earthly strength. It’s in Jesus’ hands.

Jesus as really real
Kids can sniff out when you’re telling them something that isn’t true. When I say to one of my daughters “you’re the most beautiful girl in the world”, they know that I haven’t seen all the girls in the world. But when I tell them the truest thing of all – that Jesus is with them, he loves them, and they can trust him – the Holy Spirit preaches to them “that’s true!” Never stop telling your kids how real and relevant King Jesus is in their lives.

Jesus as the greatest kind of love
Shower your kids with love, affection, and blessing. And make sure they know where it comes from. It comes from Jesus, whose love for us is secured, eternal, unearned, and unchanging. Articulate a gospel-love for your kids: that won’t ever change, that is always abundant, and is unaffected by their performance. And tell them Jesus loves them more than even you do.

Jesus as the quick forgiver
Jesus doesn’t make us sit in time-out and stew over our rotten sinfulness before he finally offers us forgiveness. He’s quick to forgive, and eager to restore. Consequences of sin are one thing, but the shame from sin is another. Jesus doesn’t shame us, so neither should we shame our kids. Be quick to forgive your kids, and insist that they be quick to forgive one another. We like to use the phrase in our house (after someone has been forgiven) “now it’s like it never happened”. That’s how it is in Christ, and that’s how it should be in our homes.

Jesus as the invisible presence
He’s with you in your room, kitchen, minivan, school, airplane, and doctor’s office. Jesus is present with us by his Spirit at all times. Remind your kids that Jesus isn’t some dude they hear about on Sundays. He’s alive! He’s really real! And he’s present in their lives at all times and in all places.

Jesus as the Lion
I wrote a post a few months ago on the powerful story of Jesus as the Lion from C.S. Lewis’ The Horse And His Boy. I encourage you to read that article if you haven’t before.

I want my kids to see Jesus as the Lion! Always with them, defending them, protecting them, loving them, hearing their cries, and at work in the events of their lives even when they feel all alone.

I’ve taught my kids that “Jesus is like a Lion who lives inside of us. And when we worship Him, He roars”. So when my oldest daughter is scared of going downstairs to get her shoes, I encourage her to just say/sing the name of Jesus. And she does! It’s a wonderful demonstration of the power of the name of Jesus.

And with those foundations laid, now a few quick words about how to encourage an atmosphere of worship in our homes:

Encouraging Worship in Our Homes

First, even though this post is a few years old (and was written before we had our third child), it lays out our routine in our home, and what we’ve found to be effective. I encourage you to read it.

Second, let me just say how powerful setting up a routine with your kids can be. Whether it’s a morning or an evening routine doesn’t matter. All of us have different families, with different bedtimes, different demands, and different personalities. But none of us are the Lord of our families. Jesus is. We must prioritize training our families to stop – every day – and acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and to take time to praise/thank him, and pray to him. When a child knows a routine, they will hold their parents (and even babysitters!) accountable to stick to it.

Third, don’t allow your lack of musical giftedness to be an excuse for not leading your kids in worship. Buy/stream worship music and have it on in your house or car. Put it on in the house when the atmosphere is tense. Sing some simple songs before bedtime. It doesn’t have to be awesome. You’re just planting seeds. You are giving your kids what they’re not getting many other places: Jesus.

Final Crucial Concepts

1. Make Jesus central to everything. Every pain, joy, routine, and activity is an opportunity to point your kids to Jesus. They start to get the idea after a while.

2. Allow Jesus to take the pressure off of you: to be perfect in all things, protect your kids from all dangers, provide for your family in all ways, and carry everything on your shoulders. Your kids need to know that you need Jesus too.

3. Shower your blessing and the cross of Christ on your kids. Every night, your final word to your kids should be Jesus’ final word to us: His great love, His blessing, and His delight.

I say to each of my girls something really close to this every night:

“May Jesus bless you, refresh you, fill you with His Spirit, guard you, guide you, and protect you all the days of your life. May He use you in powerful ways. May you grow to love Him, worship Him, and be faithful to Him and His word. (During this next part I make the sign of the cross on their foreheads.) In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Then I wrap my arms around them and tell them over and over again how much I love them.

The amazing thing is that the next day they want to hear it all over again. And I want to say it all over again.

Our job is not to be perfect parents raising perfect kids perfectly. Our job is to raise our kids in an atmosphere of God’s abundant love, centered at all times on Jesus, so that one day (in the blink of an eye) when we let the leash out all the way, they will still be tied to the One who loves them more than their parents do.

A New Word: Exaltatation

1Yesterday at the end of our 11:15am service, when communion was wrapping up, I made up a word. It’s a good one, and I think we should all add it to our worship vocabulary.

It came out when I was encouraging the congregation to offer words/prayers of thanksgiving and praise to God. And in my mental search for the word “exaltation” (which is indeed an actual word), I was faced with all of the different options:

1. Exalt. 2. Exalting. 3. Exalted. 4. Exaltation. 5. ExxonMobil.

And instead of using any of those existing options, I chose to make up a new one.

So something like this came out of my mouth: “Let’s offer our exaltatation to the Lord”.

That extra syllable – the addition of the “at” that don’t really need to be there – really makes that word pop in a new way. To use a classical music term: it adds umph. Or oomph if you’re from the south. In other words, the extra “at” is where it’s at.

Exaltatation. It’s harder to say, harder to spell, and harder to understand, but it’s got pizzaz written all over it. Or maybe pizza written all over it. “Make that one extra large pizza with pizzaz, please, with some exaltatation on the side.”

If I had just used the already existing word, “exaltation”, things would have gone just fine. But that extra syllable, resulting in the invention of a new word, kicked things in a different gear. I recommend you use this new word as soon as you can.

You’re welcome. Happy exaltatating.

Recommending “Sing the Bible with Slugs and Bugs”

1If you have kids, know kids, once were a kid, are ever around kids, ever lead worship for kids, ever lead worship for people who are kids, or are currently a kid, you should most definitely buy Randall Goodgame’s album “Sing the Bible with Slugs and Bugs”. Buy it from www.slugsandbugs.com (or on iTunes).

It’s been out since February 2015, so I’m a little late to the game here. No one sent me a free copy, and no one asked me to review it, but my wife bought it over the summer and it’s quickly become our family’s soundtrack.

We listen to it with our kids in the car, or around the breakfast table, or when a bad case of the grumpies has infected the house.

I listen to it when I’m driving around town or running some of the trails behind my neighborhood.

And I’m using more and more of the songs when I lead our kids and families in worship at Sunday school in-between our morning services at my church.

It’s a great album. The music, production, lyrics, balance of silly and serious, catchy melodies, and sheer amount of bible content is excellent. Depending on the song, you’ll hear Randall joined by The Watoto Children’s Choir  – EDIT: The African Children’s Choir – , and/or Sally Lloyd Jones, and/or some of the best Nashville singers and musicians who just happen to be Randall’s buddies. Oh, and Dracula and some pretty jazzy bees too. Man it’s good.

I love all of the songs. In particular, I’m loving “For Us”. It’s a call and response song that helps kids learn 1 John 3:16. It’s singable, simple, easy, fun, and gets stuck in your head. And I think that’s the point.

Here’s a clip of one of the other great songs, “Two Shirts”.

Thanks, Randall, for the gift that this album is to me as a follower of Jesus, a lover of the Word, a husband and dad, and a worship leader too.

Blending The New With The Old: Two Lies

1Worship leaders and pastors who are wrestling with the important and difficult decisions about when and how to bring fresh expressions of worship into traditional services, or more traditional/liturgical elements into contemporary services have a hard job in front of them.

Blending the new with the old is not as divisive an issue as it was 10 or 20 years ago, mainly because the worship wars have largely subsided, resulting either in different styles having their own services, or a different style having prevailed after a long battle.

But many churches are still attempting unified expressions of worship, in one service, either on a weekly or occasional basis.

And for those kinds of churches, and their worship leaders and pastors who are thinking through how to blend the new with the old (and do it well), I would like to caution against two commonly believed lies.

Lie # 1: The presence of something new will result in the removal of something old

There is no reason why this has to be true. Just because you bring a drum set into the sanctuary doesn’t mean you’ll be removing organ pipes. Just because you have the choir sing an anthem doesn’t mean your electric guitarist needs to pack up his pedals. There has to be a way we can embrace a Psalm 150-esque model of robust and God-centered worship that draws out from praise from a variety of instruments across the spectrum.

And the way we begin to embrace that model is to just go ahead and do it. Will it be messy sometimes? Yes. Will we get critical responses? Yes. Will we do it perfectly? No. But we can’t just talk about putting the new and the old together in one unified expression. We actually have to make the hard decision to start doing it.

The pastor has to decide to spend some capital on teaching on it. The worship leader, and/or the worship staff, has to decide to do some hard work on moving forward as one with a broad variety of musicians with a broad variety of tastes and training. The leaders (or elders, or vestry, or deacons) have to be prepared to answer the congregation’s concerns.

Deciding to do some addition doesn’t mean you have to do subtraction. You can add without subtracting. This is the beauty of worshipping a God whose greatness is unsearchable! Lead your people with the constant refrain: “do not be afraid”.

Lie # 2: The immediate embrace of something new will bring immediate revitalization

There is no evidence that this is true. Many churches over the last few decades have rushed to incorporate contemporary music into their services, oftentimes firing their choirs and organists, and assuming that by bringing in new forms of worship, they will experience immediate growth and revitalization. Similarly, many pastors have decided to introduce a lot of liturgy and/or formality into a service unaccustomed to it, thinking that it will bring immediate health or depth.

Most of the time, however, the opposite happens.

When you drop a bomb on something, it always leaves destruction. You can’t drop a bomb on decades-long expressions of worship and expect flowers to bloom and birds to chirp sweetly. You’ll not only be dishonoring the past, but you’ll also be destroying the foundations for the future, and ensuring that nothing can grow.

Except for very rare circumstances, never introduce new elements into worship immediately. Always move slowly. laying a good foundation, lovingly pastoring your people, while also resolutely moving forward.

If a service has never ever had drums before, then plan on using drums sparingly for the first year. Yes, a whole year. Then the second year, once a month. By the third year, you might be able to do it every Sunday. Why move so incredibly slowly? So that people will go with you. You want them to go with you? Move slowly. Did I mention you should move slowly?

If a service has never had liturgy before, then start saying a Psalm together as a call to worship once a month or so. Then maybe you can decide to start saying the Lord’s Prayer together when you do communion. Maybe after a few months, or a year, you can introduce a confession and absolution (or “assurance of pardon” if the word “absolution” freaks you out). Then your congregation can see liturgy as something beautiful and helpful, not something distracting.

Don’t believe the lie that making drastic and immediate changes will result in drastic and immediately positive results. The more likely outcome is that you’ll shoot yourself in the foot.

The first lie (new things are bad) stems from fearfulness. We’re afraid of what might happen if-this or if-that. We’re afraid so-and-so might leave. For the lack of a better phrase, we care too much.

The second lie (new things will bring immediate life) stems from carelessness. We don’t care who might get hurt. We don’t care what people think. For the lack of a better phrase, we don’t care enough.

Worship leaders and pastors who are thinking and praying through how to blend the new with the old would be wise if they are continually asking these questions out in the open:
– What are we afraid of?
– What are we ignoring?

Honestly and prayerfully dialoging about those questions – and then faithfully and biblically walking forward, together, in helping lead your church to embrace a robust view of worship – might actually result in changes that will bear fruit for generations to come, long after we’ve passed the baton.

O Praise The One Who Paid My Debt

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 2.50.00 PMLast month I observed one of my favorite fall traditions in Northern Virginia.

I paid my Fairfax County Personal Property Tax.

For the privilege of driving on their roads, and parking my car in my own driveway, each year I get a bill in the mail from Fairfax County, based on their assessed value of the two cars Catherine and I own, meaning I have to write a big fat check by the first week of October. It’s wonderful. It fills me with autumnal joy.

And so like I’ve done many times before, I dutifully paid my taxes to satisfy the Fairfax County Government. And now they’re pleased.

But come next summer, when they send out another bill, demanding my money by the first week of October, they won’t be pleased anymore. So I’ll have to do my civic duty and satisfy their demands so that they’re happy with me, and don’t penalize me even more, or threaten to take my car away.

It’s a constant cycle of demands-payment-satisfaction, demands-payment-satisfaction, demands-payment-satisfaction, that never ends.

Sounds to me like how a lot people view worship.

God demands it. So we dutifully (if not resentfully) give it, even if it’s very occasionally. And this “payment” of sorts will satisfy God and make him happy with us. Before our next sin rolls around. Or before the next Sunday rolls around. And then God isn’t happy with us anymore, and so he demands we come to church again, and so we do, and he sees that we do, and he’s happy. For a few days. Then he’s not happy anymore.

You get the picture.

Approaching worship like we’re paying taxes to a demanding God, in order to make him happy with us, is tragic. And I think it’s pervasive, which makes it even more tragic.

Two important correctives:

First: God doesn’t demand our praise in order to make him happy.

In the words of John Piper“God’s demand for supreme praise is his demand for our supreme happiness. Deep in our hearts we know that we are not made to be made much of. We are made to make much of something great… If he “humbly” sent us away from his beauty, suggesting we find our joy in another, we would be ruined… The reason God seeks our praise is not because he won’t be complete until he gets it. He is seeking our praise because we won’t be happy until we give it. This is not arrogance. It is love.”

I love that. God doesn’t demand our praise like a maniacal dictator who needs to puff up his own pride. He demands our praise because he knows “we won’t be happy until we give it”.

Second: Our worship isn’t payment to God. Our worship is gratefulness for Jesus’ payment.

When people know that they were dead, but now they’re alive, they praise the one who raised them to life. We were born spiritually dead. Then God made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-8). This is the motivation for our worship. We’re not worshipping God in order to satisfy him! Jesus satisfied him perfectly for us. That’s motivation enough: simply to say “thank you” in a thousand ways, on a thousand Sundays, with a thousand tongues.

We worship God because it’s what we’re created for. And we worship God because in Christ he raised us from death to life.

So I’ll keep paying my personal property tax to Fairfax County every year. I’ll keep trying to make them happy with me. I’ll keep trying to stay on their good side.

And I’ll worship God with the full assurance of pardon from my sins, grace unending, and a heart of thanks that Jesus paid my debt forever.