All The Sheep Matter (And Have Names)

1As someone who’s constantly scheduling/recruiting/managing volunteers, I’ve been reminded (and amazed) recently by how much it means to people when you tell them that they matter. That you appreciate their gifts, you want them to contribute, you know they’re busy, their presence makes a difference, you really like it when they show up, and you know their name.

At my church we’ve been seriously pouring a lot of time and energy into our loving our choir, helping it to grow, and launching into the Fall with momentum, energy, and unity. A big part of that was hand-writing letters to over 65 people, some of whom had been singing in the choir for decades, and some of whom had only given it a try once in their lives (if ever).

And in the weeks since those letters hit people’s mailboxes, I’ve lost count of the number of folks who have said how much those notes meant to them. To actually receive a handwritten card – to them – that wasn’t just some sort of spammy, church-lingo, form letter, meant the world. One dear lady told me (in tears) how when she read my note that she “was a blessing”, she broke down in gratefulness.

I wonder how many of our volunteers are just hungry for some sort of pastoral connection, however sporadically, by someone in church leadership, that shows that we know their names, we appreciate them, we value their contributions, and we are blessed by their gifts. I think for some people it helps them go from feeling like they’re filling a slot, to actually being a part of a body.

Now don’t get me wrong: we have a long way to go at my church, and this isn’t some sort of pat on the back for having “arrived” at our destination with our volunteers. We have a lot of work, and loving, and recruiting, and community-building still to do. I’m an introvert, I have three kids, and I’m constantly juggling different responsibilities and initiatives like everyone else. Personally, I’m trying to grow in this area, and these last few weeks have reminded me of the fruit that can come from taking the time to tell people they are loved and they matter.

For those of us in any ministry position where it’s up to us to schedule, recruit, or manage volunteers, we have an important lesson from Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. The sheep matter to Him, and so they should know that they matter to us too.

Advertising for Worship Team Members

Every three or four months I’ll put a little blurb in my church’s weekly bulletin in an attempt to let church members know that if they’d like to sing or play an instrument on the worship team, I’m the person to contact. We have enough new members joining, and old members who are waiting for a nudge, that this will usually yield a couple of emails or phone calls.

I’ve learned that how I word these little advertisements is important.

If they’re too long, no one will read them.
This isn’t the place for outlining the values and goals of the worship team. A church website or some other publication might be better suited for a lengthy ministry overview. An advertisement for worship team members in a weekly bulletin doesn’t need to be very long.

Don’t sound desperate
A desperately worded blurb communicates two things to two different groups. First, to your current volunteers, you are not good enough, and second, to your prospective volunteers, I really need you. You don’t want your current volunteers to feel undervalued, and you don’t want people joining your team thinking that they are a more important member of the body than anyone else. That’s not how the body works, according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:21-27.

Use a cautious tone with cautious buzzwords
If your advertisement says: “If you want to be on the worship team, please contact ___”, then if I read that ad, I’m thinking that all I need to do is email you and then, once you show me where to sign, I’m on the team! It’s just that easy!

But if you say (and this is how I say it, by the way): “If you’re interested in exploring using your musical gifts to serve the congregation, please contact ____”, then if I read that ad, I’m thinking that this is the beginning of a process of expressing my interest, and exploring an opportunity. There isn’t a dotted line yet. Make the process intentionally slow, and err on the side of caution. These are leadership positions at your church and should not be taken lightly.

Make it about serving, not about music
I use the phrase “…using your musical gifts to serve the congregation” to set the tone from the very beginning to prospective worship team applicants that my priority is building a team of people interested in serving the body of Christ, not just playing music.

Very few members of the worship team at my church just approached me out of the blue. They either thought I didn’t need any more volunteers, or wasn’t interested, and were happy to remain in the pews. But when they saw a little blurb in the bulletin one week they decided to email me.

Regularly, and carefully, making members of your church aware of opportunities to serve will result in a stream (even if it’s one person per year) of musicians eager to serve. We should be eager to integrate them.

Something Doesn’t Sound Right

I was browsing a popular worship music resource website a week ago when I noticed this advertisement, front and center, with the text swooping in and out in order to grab my attention.

It did.

“You lead worship every week”.

Is this ad talking to me? How does it know? Amazing!

“You may not have all the musicians you need”.

Well, I guess that might be true. So what’s your point?

“But you don’t have to sound like it.”

You have GOT to be kidding me. Is this a joke?

No, unfortunately, it’s not a joke.

Don’t have a drummer in your congregation? No problem. Just download an audio file of a drummer playing a particular song, and then play along to that file during your service. Problem solved! Now you’ll sound like you really have a drummer!

No electric guitarist? Don’t bother trying to raise one up. With a few clicks of the mouse, your searching can be over. You’ll finally sound like the CDs sound!

Can’t find a 6-piece brass section? You guessed it… Congregation: prepare to be wowed!

This is a bad idea on many, many levels.

First, it buys into the lie that you NEED particular instruments to be an effective worship leader. You don’t need any instruments at all.

Second, it plays into our sinful desire to impress people. So I don’t have a bass player. So someone might notice. So what?

Third, it’s lazy. If you really need a particular kind of musician on your team, pray and recruit until you find them. And until you find them, go without.

Fourth, it encourages fakeness. Instead of a local congregation being served and edified by the gifts from within that congregation, it is now being augmented and entertained by distant and invisible studio musicians.

Fifth, it makes it all about how you sound. The ad says even though you may not have all the musicians you “need”, “you don’t have to sound like it”. Yes, how we sound does matter. But it’s not a matter of first importance. No where in scripture are we commanded to sound anything other than skillful (Psalm 33:3). And this skill is not commanded so that we can sound good!

Worship leaders: lead worship with the musicians you have. Not the musicians you want or the musicians you can download. It doesn’t matter if you don’t sound like the CD, and it doesn’t matter if you do. Ignore the temptation to always want more, the marketing campaigns designed to convince you that what you want is what you need, and the sinful slide to envy what others have.

Be encouraged: even if “you lead worship every week”, and “you may not have all the musicians you need”, all you need to do is what you can with what you have. Be a faithful steward of the gifts God has given you, all for his glory.

Say No To Just Standing There

At our Monday night meeting, I encouraged my church’s worship team to “say no” to three things: (1) sameness, (2) winging it, and (3) just standing there.

For fun, I made up little stickers and handed them out at the beginning of my talk. It made everyone laugh and (hopefully) helped them remember what I said once they got home.

Here’s what I shared about not “just standing there”.

Fresh, creative, excellent, and well-rehearsed music will never change anyone’s life. Jesus will.

Good mixes, proper speaker placement, in-ear monitors, and skillful lyrics/video operation will never bring anyone salvation. Jesus will.

Our areas of giftedness can so easily become idols: things we look to for comfort, deliverance, help, and companionship. We consider them worthy of substantial time and/or money, and pour our lives out for them. Eventually they leave us empty.

We must never worship at the altar of relevance, freshness, music, technology, arrangements, or creativity. We worship the “Lamb who was slain”, who is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:11). “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen!” (Revelation 7:10b, 12).

Your job is not to just run sound. Your job is to lead people in exalting the greatness of God in Jesus Christ.

Your job is not to just play drums. Your job is to lead people in magnifying the one who is “great and greatly to be praised”. (Psalm 145:3)

Your job is not just to sing. Your job is to lead people in encountering the glory of God.

Do we make it clear on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings that our passion is for the glory of God, and that our lives have been changed by the gospel?

When people look at us (and they are looking at us), do they see people who are in their position first and foremost to make much of Jesus? Or do they see people who are in their role just because it kind of seems like that’s where they should be… and they could take it or leave it… and they’re not really into it… and they’ll just let the worship leader do his thing…?

Please, in whatever area you serve during a service, don’t just stand there. Sing along, model physical expressiveness, engage with God, pay close attention to the reading and preaching of God’s Word, and “ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name, bring an offering, and come into his courts!” (Psalm 96:8) 

Say No To Winging It

Yesterday I shared a summary of the first thing I pressed my church’s worship team away from at our Monday tune-up night: sameness. The second thing I suggested we should “say no” to is winging it. Here’s a summary of what I said:

Say no to winging it!
The goal is not to be scripted, flawless, flashy, or impressive. The goal is to be ready.

There is a difference between being expectant, open and obedient to the spontaneous direction of the Holy Spirit – and being unprepared, under-rehearsed, and messy. Not being controlled by a script is wise. Not being ready is foolish.

When we “wing it”, we can end up doing things the same way we’ve always done them, sacrificing the level of excellence, raising the risk of distractions, and increasing the amount of stress and anxiety. Sometimes this is unavoidable, and we just have to do our best, humbly and prayerfully. But most of the time, we’re winging it by choice.

Let’s choose to say no to winging it, and step up our pursuit of humble excellence across the board. Here is how this might look:

Before the weekend:
Musicians: rehearse at home. Once the songs are posted (Thursday night at the latest), make time to listen to them and practice them.
Sound engineers: listen to the songs (either once they’re posted, or download them somewhere). Get a feel for their arrangements, and if the song is mixed well, let that influence your mixing once the weekend arrives.

Weekend rehearsals:
Start on time: Rehearsal shouldn’t start 15 minutes after it was scheduled. Technical volunteers should arrive early enough to have equipment set-up, plugged in, and turned on by start time. Musicians should arrive early enough to be able to start making music at start time.
Start earlier: Unless we give ourselves enough time to rehearse and prepare, we won’t be ready. To avoid “winging it”, we need to have longer rehearsals.

Rehearse fully: After figuring out arrangements, we’ll aim to run through each song once, with the lyrics operator running lyrics, and sound engineer finalizing the front of house and monitor mixes.

Pursuing a “stepping up” of excellence in all areas – musical and technical – requires a sacrifice of each of us, namely our time.

I always want to honor and value all of the various volunteers by not burning them out or taking their precious time for granted. If either of those things start happening, please let me know! But just as we slide towards sameness without being pressed towards growth – we are also at risk of sliding towards sloppiness without being pressed towards excellence.

Let’s go into our services ready, rehearsed, and prayed up – listening for and responding to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Say No To Sameness

At our tune-up night in October I asked my worship team ten questions, and in November I offered ten challenges, all aimed at pressing us towards vibrancy and maturity as worship leaders, and away from stagnancy and common pitfalls.

Last night I shared some more areas where we all could use some more “pressing”. Here’s the first part of what I shared:

Why all the pressing?

First, because we naturally slide towards stagnancy and complacency as sinful human beings.

, because that’s one of the best uses for our monthly meetings. We’re all in one place for an hour and a half, and before we get scattered across a monthly schedule again, it’s good for us to get on the same page.

And thirdly, because the “new car smell” always wears off after a while. We can’t just expect our ministry and services to remain fresh and vibrant on their own. As leaders in the church, it’s our responsibility to ensure our passion for leading the congregation in exalting the greatness of God doesn’t wane over time.

There are three areas in which we could all use some pressing.

First, say no to sameness!

The same songs, the same arrangements, the same volunteers, the same equipment, the same approach, the same mix, the same tune-ups, the same kinds of rehearsals, the same problems, etc. Sunday to Sunday, year to year, nothing really looks all that different.

The same skill level, the same kind of bass technique, the same kind of piano playing, the same vibrato, the same acoustic guitar strumming patterns, the same vocal technique, the same kind of sound engineering, the same electric guitar sounds, the same issues with lyric projection. You get the point.

Do we want our services one year from now to look the same? Do we want our level of musical gifting to be at the same mark? Do we want to be dealing with the same speaker coverage problems? Do we still want to be dreaming about the day we get in-ear monitors or subs? Do we want to be arranging our songs like we’re in the mid-90’s?

Living things grow. Dead things don’t.

So let’s keep growing,

– Keep learning, practicing, improving, refining, and maturing your skill. If your musical technique is frozen in the era in which you first started playing, make an effort to catch up to 2010. Download some new CDs, listen to modern music, and practice at home. Three newer worship CDs I recommend to hear a more “modern” sound are: Matt Redman’s “We Shall Not Be Shaken”, Tim Hughes’ “Happy Day (Live)”, and Paul Baloche’s “Glorious”. Carefully monitor your diet of “secular” music, but intentionally listen to things that will stretch you as a musician and keep you growing.

– Whether you’re a singer whose gifting is singing on an individual mic, or a singer who is more gifted to sing in an ensemble setting, are you growing as a vocalist? Do you warm up? Are you blending? Are you controlling your vibrato? Are you making sure you’re not adding “dips” and “scoops” that don’t belong? Are you developing an ear for harmony? Are you working on improving your tone? As vocalists, we can develop bad habits and just go on for years singing the same way.

Sound engineers:
– Put your collective heads together, under Andrew’s wise and skilled leadership, and come up with a master plan to solve The Falls Church’s AV problems. List the solutions. Prioritize them. Schedule them. Budget for them. Implement them. We have a fairly large AV budget and a large pool of dedicated volunteers. We’ve come a LONG way, but still struggle with the same problems year after year. Let’s keep chipping away at them.

– Make sure you’re growing as a sound engineer and improving in your mixing skills. Go to a conference, read a book, ask for input, listen to modern music and work towards getting as good a mix as possible. Listen back to recordings of services you mixed. What could you have done differently?

Lyrics operators:
– Come early, and when possible come to rehearsal and make sure you’re ready to lead people in worship by ensuring they can sing without distraction. You have a difficult, oftentimes thankless job, that just so happens to be one of the most critical to the skillful leading of the congregation. You are a worship leader – not just a person sitting on a stool. Be encouraged, and be intentional about growing in your role.

More tomorrow.

Getting Ready for Our February Tune-Up Night

Our February worship team tune-up night is tonight at 7:30pm, and I’m looking forward to spending some time with the singers, instrumentalists, sound engineers, and lyric operators who will come.

There’s always some who have to miss for various (sometimes good, sometimes not good) reasons, but I try to remind the team regularly how important it is that they make a priority out of making these evenings. (So important that if a member regularly misses, it might be cause for me to ask them if they need a break from the team until they’re less busy).

Here’s how we’ll spend our time together:

7:30pm – 7:45: Pizza, cookies, veggies, and drinks.
– I’ll order five large Papa John’s pizzas (2 pepperoni, 1 Hawaiian, 1 sausage, and 1 green pepper and onion) and have them delivered around 7:20 for people who come early.
– I run to 7-11 in the afternoon and pick up plates, cups, napkins, cookies, and sodas.
– Some people bring home-cooked and healthy food to contribute.
– I put music on to make the room not feel so empty when the first few people arrive.
– We meet in a fairly small room. This helps it feel more familial and less awkward if there’s a small turnout.

7:45 – 7:50: I welcome people, introduce new members, etc.
– I always thank people for giving up an evening away from home, and for fighting traffic to get to church.
– I give a quick summary of why we have these monthly gatherings: “each person in this room is in a position of leadership in this church. It’s our responsibility to serve this church with humility and skill…”

7:50 – 8:15: Singing and prayer
– I lead from guitar plugged into a small guitar amp so people feel comfortable singing out. There’s a piano in the room, and I bring the djembe in as well. If someone wants to play along, they’re welcome to. It’s pretty loose.
– I have a handful of songs picked out (in my head) that I want us to sing, but we don’t project them or print them out, since I want this to be a time when we practice listening to and responding to the spontaneous leading of the Holy Spirit. If someone wants to share a passage of scripture, lead off on a song, or share an impression from the Lord, I want this to be a time where they feel comfortable stepping out.
– We just stand in a circle and sing and pray for as long as it feels we should. It’s great.

8:15 – 8:25: Announcements.

8:25 – 9:00: Teaching.
– I usually share on some aspect of the practicalities of leading worship. How can we improve? How can we be better musicians? How can we grow in humility? Each month it’s different. It’s just a chance for me to encourage our team towards growth, maturity, and vibrancy.
– Sometimes I’ll bring in a guest speaker.
– When we met in October I shared ten questions for the worship team, and in November I shared ten challenges for the worship team.

9:00 – 9:15: Wrap up.
– We’ll either sing some more, pray some more, or take some time to dialogue about what people think. Keeping it conversational is a great idea, since people will often have good things to add that you wish you had thought about.

9:15 – 9:45. People mingle and slowly filter out.

9:45 – 10:00: Clean up.

10:00: Go home.

If you’re not already, I encourage you to have this kind of regular meeting with your worship team. Yours might look totally different from ours. It’s taken me a few years to figure out the best way to lead and structure these meetings, and it will probably take you some time too. But it’s worth it!