Should the 4th of July affect our Sunday planning?

fireworks-fourth-of-july-2This is a question I struggle with with every year, particularly since George Washington attended my church (a few years ago…) and many members of our congregation serve in politics, the government and the military.

Bob Kauflin at www.worshipmatters.com has a great post about whether or not the 4th of July (and other national holidays) should affect our Sunday planning.

Happy 4th of July and thanks again for stopping by this new blog. See you next week.

One sure way to grow as a worship leader

microphoneAt my church, we record each weekend’s services from start to finish. The sermons are uploaded to the website for downloading and streaming and the music is put on a CD for me to listen back to. No editing, no auto-tuning, no pitch correction, and no overdubbing. Listening back to these CDs is one of the best ways I know of to keep growing as a worship leader.

It keeps you humble
I’m sure none of you ever struggle with this, but sometimes after a service I’m tempted to replay in my head how good I sounded on a certain song, how something I said really came across well, how my glissando on the closing song was awesome, etc. This is pride, in case you’re wondering, and if left unchecked it will lead to major problems. Listening back to a service is one helpful way to keep seeking humility. I realize I didn’t sound so good on a certain song after all, how I could have spoken more articulately, how my glissando sounds totally out of place and distracting, etc.

It’s not a good idea to bash yourself or be overly critical, but a healthy dose of honest self-evaluation will do you a lot of good. It’s also a way of heart-checking yourself each week. Am I drawn to listen to myself sing and/or play a song over and over? That’s a warning sign that God’s glory might have slipped down a few notches on your list of priorities.

It points out your bad habits
I began to realize a few years ago that I had a bad habit of clicking my tongue whenever I said something, probably two or three times per sentence. I also would drag out the last note of a song for waaaay too long, slowly getting more and more flat, creating a sound that I would liken to a plane rapidly losing altitude. I didn’t know I was doing either of these things until I listened back to myself leading worship.

It gives you perspective
In my post on “How to handle the Sunday blues” I mentioned that worship leaders can sometimes dwell on the insignificant after a service (i.e. broken strings, forgotten lyrics, etc.). There have been times after a service when I’ve walked away thinking that we had had a major train wreck on a song, only to listen back later and realize that it wasn’t that big of a deal and we had all maneuvered out of it just fine. When you listen back to the recording of a service after you’re less emotionally invested in it – you’ll be able to more objectively evaluate which issues need to be addressed and which ones can just be forgotten.

Another way it gives you perspective is that you can get a sense of what direction your worship team is headed. I listen back to recordings of us four years ago and realize we’ve come a long way and that we’re headed in a good direction. But perhaps someday I might listen back and realize that we used to be tighter than we are now, and that we’re becoming sloppy. Long term perspective is a must-have when you’re a worship leader.

You never know when you’ll need a record of something
A few years ago I was leading the singing for the Saturday morning session of our men’s retreat. Towards the end I had a strong impression that I should sing a spontaneous/prophetic song over the men, conveying God’s heart of a Father toward them. It wasn’t planned, so it wasn’t written down anywhere. Several men were deeply affected by the song, and later asked me for the words. If we hadn’t been recording, I could have given them a pretty accurate guess of what the words had been. But thankfully, we had been recording the music so this was possible. Most of the time your recordings can just go into a filing cabinet after you’ve listened to them, but every once in a while you might really need them.

It’s good for your sound engineer
A mix straight from the board is hardly ever a good gauge of how it sounded in the room, but it can help point out if there are instruments or vocalists that are consistently too prominent, not prominent enough, nowhere to be heard, if there are issues with microphone placement, etc. If you and your sound engineer can listen back to a service’s recording, I bet he or she will notice some ways they can improve.

If you’re not already recording your services, I’d strongly encourage you to start. It’s not always a pleasant experience, but it will definitely help you grow. At my church we record the services onto a computer and then the sound engineer puts the music on a CD for me, but there are other ways too. Some churches record directly onto a CD, while others still record onto tape-decks. If none of these are options for you, you can purchase hand-held recording devices at most electronics stores. Don’t put it off because you’re afraid of how you might sound. If the congregation has to listen to you every week, you should probably share in the experience too!

Projecting Excellence – Part 1

In my experience, most worship leaders are oblivious to what’s happening on the screen during a worship service. Wrong words, poorly chosen backgrounds, skipped verses, bad fonts, etc. Worship leaders think it isn’t their responsibility to worry about such things, and that all they have to do is forward their song list to the technical team and everything will be fine when they show up on Sunday morning. I disagree. If you’re the worship leader, you’re responsible for making sure that once the service begins and the very first song starts, there are as few distractions as possible that might keep the congregation from engaging with God. I’m not suggesting that every worship leader has to prepare the files him or herself – but I am suggesting that every worship leader needs to care about what is being projected onto the screens.

Every couple of weeks or so on this blog, we’ll focus on small details that, when added up, make a huge difference. There are a lot of things that we need to keep in mind when projecting lyrics so we’ll take it slowly – one detail per post. Today we’ll look at line breaks, and we’ll use the first verse of “In Christ Alone” as an example.

Here’s an example of poor line breaks.

InChristAlonePPTBad

If I’m in the congregation and this is on the screen, I might be really annoyed by this. It looks messy. The words don’t move to different lines at natural points in the song. There are single words taking up whole lines and then some lines that go really long. It looks like whoever typed this up didn’t care about what they were doing and it was done as an afterthought.

Here’s an example of good line breaks.

InChristAlonePPTGood

Notice how it looks much cleaner than the previous example. The words move to new lines at natural points in the song. The line breaks usually happen where you’d take a breath (after “fiercest drought” ). There aren’t any single words taking up entire lines. It looks like whoever typed this up cared about it and thought through how the line breaks could help the congregation not be distracted.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Are there any extended (two or three beats) pauses in the line when we sing it? That’s a natural place for a line break.
  • Does this slide look messy? Tinker around with it and try to make it look pleasing to the eye.
  • Does my eye have to hop around a lot to figure out where I’m going? Try to make your line breaks flow in a way that’s easy to follow.
  • Are there any “orphaned” words sitting all by themselves? Break up the line evenly so this doesn’t happen.

Even the little details matter!

How to Handle the Sunday Blues

Some Sundays after church you get in your car and think to yourself: “what was that all about?” You had planned, prepared, rehearsed, prayed, and prayed some more, but everything seemed to go wrong, the songs didn’t seem to “work”, the congregation didn’t seem to be engaged, and you even broke a string on the first song. A new string!

That was me yesterday afternoon. By the time I reached my car after lunch with friends, I was singing the Sunday blues to Catherine and didn’t stop for hours. “Why did my stupid string break? I had just replaced it!” “My monitor was terrible the entire service. Could you even hear my guitar in the room?” “The guitarist didn’t understand that the last song wasn’t supposed to be played syncopated! We had even rehearsed it!” “The announcements went on for fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes!” “No one even wanted to be there. It was terrible.”

Literally, I didn’t stop for hours.

Do you ever sing the Sunday blues? If you’ve ever led worship you know what I’m talking about and you could probably sing me your own personal version. It’s a tempting to song to sing and sometimes it even makes us feel better for a while. The Sunday blues is sung in the key of pride and written out of selfishness. It’s a song we shouldn’t have in our repertoire and there’s a better way to handle our disappointments after a service.

The 24 hour rule
John Yates, my Pastor, has a rule with his wife, Susan, that if he has preached on a Sunday morning, they won’t say anything critical about it for at least 24 hours. This is a good idea for many reasons and it’s one that worship leaders will adopt if they’re smart. The main reason is that you’re too emotionally invested in a service immediately afterwards to give it good objective criticism. Waiting a day allows you time to relax, get perspective, and realize that it’s only one service.

Learn from your mistakes
I learned yesterday that I need to make sure my back-up guitar is in tune. I also learned that if the sax player stands 2 feet behind me, I won’t hear anything out of my monitor. Learn from your mistakes and thank God for helping you grow and mature.

Forget what needs to be forgotten
Don’t dwell on the insignificant. Broken strings, forgotten lyrics, wrong notes, hurtful comments, messed-up PowerPoint slides, etc., all have a way of standing out to us as huge, service-ruining disasters. But they’re not. If it’s happening every week, address it (see next point), but there is no way you can control every little detail. Things will not go as planned sometimes. It’s normal, and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad worship leader. Just forget about those things and laugh.

Address what needs to be addressed
There are some aspects of leading worship that aren’t so fun. Sometimes you just have to address issues that present themselves in a worship service. Don’t wait for someone else to, or for the problem to go away. It will most likely keep presenting itself until you address it. First, instead of diving into the Sunday blues – write down what the problems were. Secondly, underline the three or four issues that really should be addressed. Third, don’t procrastinate. Make a few phone calls, grab five minutes with someone when it’s possible, ask questions first and then explain your concern, and do it all humbly.

Move on
Before you lead worship again, make sure you’re not carrying any bitterness or frustration from the previous week. This is a recipe for disaster and burn-out which will result in you leading the band and congregation harshly (without even realizing it), straining relationships with those around you, and over-reacting to any new problems. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1,

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (ESV)

Noisy gongs make lousy worship leaders.

Grow in humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit
Services that don’t go so well are opportunities for us to remember that our hope is not in our abilities or skilled leadership, but in the cross of Jesus Christ. My afternoon of singing the Sunday blues was a glaring example of a sinful trust in myself, and a proud desire for perfection. As a worship leader, I need to humbly admit that my complete trust is in Jesus and that my skills and abilities are not what will make a service go well or not – but it’s the Holy Spirit’s work.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20, ESV)