When the Congregation Claps On the Wrong Beat

This past Sunday we closed our service with Tim Hughes’ song “Happy Day” celebrating the “empty cross, the empty grave” and “life eternal” that Jesus won for us.

I started the song off by playing four measures on my own, and then the rest of the band joined me. The problem? They were one beat behind.

Because my intro was just straight eighth-notes and I jumped into it after saying something to the congregation, my drummer (who is super gifted) couldn’t quite tell which beat was the downbeat. Hence the band coming in one beat behind.

I quickly realized that this meant the congregation was clapping on the wrong beat.

What should I do? Go the entire song with the congregation clapping on the wrong beat? Try to fight them and hope they figure it out? Or just stop the song and start over?

I chose the last option. I just motioned to the band to stop, told the congregation we were going to start over and why, and then we tried it again and got it right.

Here’s how it sounded:

I think this is the first time I’ve ever had to stop a song and re-start it. I don’t imagine it will happen that often. But sometimes, like this past Sunday morning, it’s the best option.

And I think it was the right call this time. It showed the congregation we don’t take ourselves too seriously, it helped the band get back on track, and allowed us to sing the rest of the song without a huge distraction. This kind of thing helps keep us humble. It’s also fun to look back on it (or listen back as the case may be) and laugh. And learn. But mostly laugh.

Are You a Worship Diva?

Last Saturday as I was driving to church for our afternoon rehearsal and evening service, I was listening to an interview with Ricky Gervais (creator of “The Office”) on National Public Radio’s show “Studio 360”. At the very end of the interview, Ricky was asked what he thinks about his critics. His answer was striking. Here’s what he said:

“I’ve only ever tried to do one thing – and that’s please me and no one else in the world. I don’t care if anyone else likes anything I’ve ever done. I don’t care about critics. I don’t even care about the audience that I never see. I only care – did it turn out exactly as I wanted it? And if it is, I’ve won. You’re bulletproof. I don’t care about ratings or awards. I don’t care about box office. I’ll do this until someone says ‘you can’t have any more money to do stuff. No one cares. Everyone hates you.’ Bob Dylan said: ‘a man can consider himself a success if he wakes up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between he did exactly what he wanted.’ And that’s what I do.”

In other words, “I don’t care about pleasing anyone else other than me. I’m happy as long as I can do exactly what I want to do.”

I might be tempted to laugh at Ricky’s brazen self-centeredness if it weren’t for the fact that I think the same exact thing from time to time. Or every day.

I want what I want, I want to do it the way I want to do it, I want it to go exactly like I want it to go, I want to be pleased with what I did, I want to win, I want to be bulletproof, and I don’t want to hear any criticism.

That’s the flesh talking – which is why we can all recognize its voice as not being Ricky Gervais but just our sin nature. It’s ugly and it’s toxic. We need the Holy Spirit to fight it. And for those of us who lead worship, if we don’t fight it, we can quickly become worship divas.

I want to do the songs I want to do. I want them to sound like I want them to sound. I want the service to go exactly the way I want. I want a nice office and I want an impressive title. I know what I’m doing and I don’t need anyone’s suggestions or criticism. I’m happy when things go my way, and I like when I look good. As long as I can do what I want to do then everything is fine.

We all have that diva inside of us – Paul calls it “the works of the flesh” in Galatians 5:19 – and the only way to keep it from being let loose is to “walk by the Spirit” (5:16). Every week, every day, and especially every time I stand before a congregation to lead them in singing, I need the Holy Spirit’s help to keep me from wanting to get my way. With the Spirit’s help I’ll want his way.

Worship divas exist to serve themselves and their ego for their glory. Worship leaders exist to serve their church for God’s glory. Which are you? 

Don’t Put It Off

I forgot to pay the water bill.

Somehow, it got buried in a stack of papers somewhere in our house and I completely forgot to pay it. Oops.

Earlier this afternoon, Catherine called me from home – she’s a full-time stay-at-home Mom to Megan – and told me that she tried turning on the faucet but no water came out. My mind immediately flashed to a mental note I had made a few weeks (months?) ago to pay that water bill. I guess that mental note got buried too.

So I rushed home, found a lovely note on our front door alerting us to the fact that our water had been shut off (not embarrassing at all, by the way), and went to city hall to pay the bill. Our water is now back on and all is well.

It was quite an odd feeling to walk into our kitchen, turn the faucet on, and have no water. And it wasn’t anyone’s fault but mine. My carelessness in tending to the not-so-minor detail of paying a bill had finally caught up with me.

A house remains cooled and heated, the lights come on when you flip a switch, the telephone dials, and the bank stays happy as long as you pay the bills. You might have a month or two grace-period if you forget, but not much longer.

It’s kind of the same way with leading a worship team.

You make a mental note to have lunch with your drummer because you think he’s getting burned out, but you forget.

Or you keep meaning to send your electric guitarist that training DVD but you never get around to it.

Maybe you have a singer who’s struggling with comparing how often he’s scheduled versus someone else. You know you should address it somehow – but weeks turn to months and now it’s been a few years.

When worship leaders are careless in tending to the not-so-minor needs of their worship team, either because they forget or because they’re procrastinating, they might have a few months grace period, but eventually things start shutting down. It catches up with them.

At any given moment, your worship team is just a few months away from being dysfunctional. It starts off subtle and then it grows. That’s why regular, clear, and pastoral leadership is needed to make sure people are focused, and priorities are clear. You’re not Superman, you can’t deal with everyone’s issues, and you can’t preemptively strike at every challenge, but you can make a point of not letting things get buried and forgotten.