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!

What’s in a name?

“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

This prayer is known as the Collect for Purity and it comes at the beginning of the communion service in most Anglican churches. It was translated from Latin into English by Thomas Cranmer and Christians have been praying it for centuries.

It’s a prayer to our Father: “Almighty God…”

It’s a prayer of surrender: “… to you all hearts are open…”

It’s a prayer of confession: “…all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts…”

It’s a prayer that God would be at work in us: “…by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit…”

It’s a prayer of commitment: “…that we may perfectly love you…”

It’s a prayer of adoration: “…and worthily magnify your holy name…”

And it’s a reminder that we can only approach the Father because of Jesus: “through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

We worship a God who is worthy “to receive glory, honor and power, for (he) created all things, and by (his) will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:11, ESV)

And we want to “magnify” our worthy God – not in the way that a magnifying glass makes something small look big – but in the way that a telescope helps us see up close something so magnificent and amazing. If you’ve ever seen a distant star through a telescope, you realize that, in the words of John Piper “we are not made to be made much of. We are made to make much of something great.”

My job as a worship leader is to help the church “make much of” or “magnify” the greatness of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. And I can only do it by the power of his Spirit.

My prayer is that this blog will help those of us who serve as worship leaders – in all sorts of different capacities – skillfully and humbly help our congregations “worthily magnify” our Almighty God.

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)

Introduction

Does the world really need one more blog?

No.

But I think worship leaders could use one more.

Especially worship leaders who, whether we are full-time, part-time, or volunteer, lead worship in the context of a liturgical church.

This blog is a response to (a) God’s prompting over several years, (b) worship leaders and Pastors (particularly from liturgical – and especially Anglican – churches) who have asked me what resources are available to help in worship leading and worship team building, and (c) my desire to see congregations served with skill and humility by their worship leaders and worship teams.

We have a great joy every week as we stand before our congregations and lead them in exalting and encountering God. It’s a great responsibility too. I hope this blog helps us all experience that joy more fully, and handle our responsibilities more skillfully. Thanks for reading.