Helping a Worship Ministry Act Like a Healthy Body

One of the most vital contributions a worship leader can and should make to the culture of the worship ministry at his or her church is a firm commitment to building a healthy team, expecting (and helping) all of the members of the ministry – band members, choir members, tech team, and more – to act like the members of a healthy body.

Whether members of the worship ministry are up front or behind the scenes, one of the jobs of a worship leader is to help those team members contribute their gifts as one part of the whole body. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul couldn’t be any more clear about this. We’re one body, with many members, arranged by God, interdependent, and all empowered by the Spirit.

A worship leader can’t emphasize this enough with his or her team. We’re all in this together. We’re all cheering for one another. We’re all pointing in the same direction. We all have the same job. We all have different gifts, distributed as God sees fit. We all need each other. No one is more or less important than anyone else.

In my experience, most musicians resonate with this, and appreciate this biblical model of a healthy body. And when this mindset becomes the norm in the culture of a worship ministry, beautiful cooperation can happen between people with very different gifts. A worship leader should encourage this!

But once in a while, a worship leader encounters a musician who isn’t a team player. There could be many reasons for this, and oftentimes they can be brought along, and after being shown a lot of patience and grace, they buy in. It’s wonderful when that happens.

Sadly, not all musicians buy in to the biblical model of a healthy body. They may refuse to work with the rest of the members in a cooperative way. When that happens, and when it’s clear that it’s not going to change, a worship leader’s job is to ask that member to step aside. Encouraging that kind of unbiblical behavior can make the whole body sick.

Over the course of time – and sometimes it may happen slowly – a worship leader can help cultivate a healthy culture in the worship ministry of his or her church, through consistent encouragement of the members of the body, and with the help of the Spirit who gives that body its life.

Five Common Rehearsal Killers

1I am a big believer in short, effective, enjoyable rehearsals. They should be short because you want to honor your volunteers’ time. They should be effective so that you actually accomplish something. And they should be enjoyable so that your musicians (and tech crew) look forward to them and want to come back.

In my experience, there are some common mistakes I’ve made, that I suspect other worship leaders make as well, that kill rehearsals. here they are:

1. Rehearse every song in full
There are certain songs your musicians know well enough to play in their sleep. If you’re confident in their confidence, you are well within your rights to say “do we all know this song? Yes? OK, great. Let’s skip it.” They will thank you, and you will have just saved five minutes.

2. Get bogged down in the mud of opinions
You want to make sure to encourage creative participation and the open sharing of ideas, particularly by not shooting down every idea that comes your way, or by never asking for input. But don’t hesitate to go against a strongly-shared idea, or even a consensus from your team, if you feel strongly otherwise. Make a joke, make sure you smile, give firm direction, and move on.

3. Don’t have songs picked or music ready in advance
Your song list should be finished at least (!) 2 or 3 days before rehearsal. Your chord charts/sheet music/etc. should be in the correct key, readable, in the order you’ll be singing them, and available to your team to have in advance. Every ounce of preparation you put into rehearsals, especially to help your musicians prepare at home, will yield great fruit later on.

4. Let the clock get away from you
There is no reason why 60 minutes isn’t enough time to have a complete worship team rehearsal.
– 7:30pm: Set-up, tune, get situated
– 7:05pm: Sound check/monitor check/etc.
– 7:10pm: Pray and start first song

See how rehearsal is starting 10 minutes after the hour? Yours should too. The more you allow set-up/sound check to drag on, the less effective rehearsal you’ll have. Even if your musicians are running late, just start without them.

– 7:10 – 7:50pm: 40 minutes to talk through each song, work on rough parts, smooth transitions, do three or four songs all the way through, etc.
– 7:50 – 8:00pm: 10 final minutes to review particularly tricky parts and emphasize what needs to be paid attention to, before a final prayer.

Look at that! A worship team rehearsal in 60 minutes. If it needs to go longer, it can, but give people a 10 minute break after an hour. Keep it fun and stay light-hearted, but keep the train moving.

5. Lose traction in between songs
Don’t let the space in between songs become chit-chat time, improvise time, or random question time. Keep it moving. When you finish one song, move on to the next song and they’ll follow you.

If people are fiddling around on their instruments while you’re trying to talk, here’s a tip: just start playing and singing the next song. That will quiet them up and keep things from stalling.

Never stop refining the craft of running short, effective, enjoyable rehearsals. Long, ineffective, unenjoyable rehearsals can create such a heavy drag on your team and ministry than can be hard to overcome. Take control, keep it moving, make sure you’re prepared, stay light-hearted, and keep your eye on the clock.

New Arrangement of “Holy, Holy, Holy”

A few months ago, my colleague and friend Andrew Cote wrote a new arrangement of “Holy, Holy, Holy” for organ, piano, violin 1, violin 2, and double bass. The choir parts and accompaniment for the verses line up with the 1982 hymnal version, but this arrangement adds a fantastic new introduction, interlude before verse 4, and some instrumental embellishments throughout.

I love what Andrew did with this. It was fresh, inventive, and challenging. But it didn’t get in the way of the congregation belting it out.

If you’d like to download the score and individual instrumental parts, click here.

And if you’d like to hear a rough demo of it, it’s below. Keep in mind this is just exported from Sibelius, so it’s really just for reference only.

Feel free to use this if you’d like!

The Freedom of Long-Term Worship Planning

For much longer than I’d like to admit, I lived in the weekly tyranny of song selection. Monday morning would come, the upcoming Sunday would again be approaching (they have a way of doing that), and I’d be back where I was a week earlier. I’d put together a list, look at the Scripture readings and sermon topic for the coming week, consider anything special coming up (baptisms, communion, etc.) and try to find the right balance.

Oftentimes, I’d look at the upcoming readings or sermon, and realize that the *perfect* song was a song I had just used a week earlier, so I couldn’t use it again. Bummer.

Similarly, I’d realize that a particular song would work great as a sermon response, or as a service closer, but the congregation didn’t know it. If only I had taught it for a couple of weeks before. Bummer again.

And on many occasions I’d realize that I was going back to my favorites too often. Or we weren’t cycling through enough of the wonderful hymns that my congregation knew. Or we weren’t going back to new songs quickly enough to reinforce them. This weekly cycle I was stuck in wasn’t good. But it was all I knew. And it was how I thought I could stay “fresh”. And it was awful.

A couple of years ago I tried something that was new for me, which was to plan out the song lists for the upcoming four months of services. In August, I would plan out of the songs for September through Christmas. In the weeks after Christmas, I would plan out the songs through Easter. And in the weeks after Easter I’d plan out the songs through the summer.

This would require a lot of time, and several days of locking myself away in my office and not doing much else besides thinking about the upcoming services. It was tedious and a bit grueling, but I noticed several things began to happen.

IĀ introduced new songs more strategically. I wasn’t repeating the same songs too often. When I needed the *perfect* song, I could schedule it and make sure people weren’t sick of it. We were cycling through a broader repertoire of hymns. And I wasn’t living in the weekly tyranny anymore.

Now when Monday morning came, I could look at what I had prayerfully planned months before, and see if it still felt right. I might make some small changes, rarely some major changes, but most often, I was happy with what was planned, and I was freed up to do other things. And when I would hear a new song and think “we’ve got to introduce that!”, then I could look ahead and see where it would make the most sense to include it, even if it meant bumping something else off of the list.

My process looked something like this (keep in mind I serve in an Anglican/liturgical context, and we sing about 291 songs per-service):

1. Choose the opening hymns
2. Choose the closing hymns
3. Choose the song that goes in between the readings
4. Choose the opening song(s) of praise
5. Choose the last song of communion (we usually like this one to be an upbeat song of celebration)
6. Choose the first two communion songs, trying to weave them together and build towards the closer.
7. Choose the call to worship (sometimes these are congregational, sometimes they’re choir pieces, and sometimes they’re instrumental, varying from contemporary to classical).

As for the offertory, which is usually a choir/band piece, my colleague Andrew and I usually map all of those out for the entire ministry year by the time we get to August. We’re just about done with that process as I speak.

This kind of long-term planning did not come naturally to me, and seemed unrealistic to me for a very long time. But now that it’s become the norm, I find that I enjoy no longer living in the weekly tyranny, and that I’m freed up to be spontaneous when I need to be.

Most of all, I’ve been freshly amazed at the wisdom of God and his kindness in helping me plan songs months in advance that will end up ministering to specific people or responding to certain current events in ways that there was no way I could have foreseen. He has a way of doing that.

The Top Ten Things I Learned About Seminary In Seminary

Well, I did it. I finally finished seminary.

I started seminary in the summer of 2010. We had one daughter, I had more hair (not much), and I was blogging roughly 4 times per week.

Now it’s basically the summer of 2019. We have three daughters and a baby boy (!), I have less hair, and I’ve been blogging roughly once every 19 months. Give or take.

I knew when I started seminary that I would be a very part-time student. The Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) campus here in D.C. is designed for people like me, after all, who want to pursue theological education without having to pack their whole family up and move to somewhere where they could actually afford a house.

But I never thought it would take meĀ this long. 9 years? That’s a long time. I took two breaks in there: one when I took a new ministry position, and one when my dad passed away. Looking back on my seminary experience, just two days before I officially receive my official diploma and wear my official black robe and get my picture with all of the seminary officials , I’m thinking about some things I’ve learned about seminary while being in seminary.

1. No one is really sure how to pronounce “Augustine”.

2. The best way to sound smart is to use the word “eschatological”.

3. It’s impossible to discuss the name “El Shaddai” without an Amy Grant reference.

4. “Dry erase markers”? More like “dry markers”, am I right?

5. No one ever likes the guy who asks the professor a question one minute before class is supposed to end. Just keep it to yourself, dude.

6. If having kids doesn’t turn you into a coffee drinker, seminary will.

7. The more initials a theologian has in between his first and last name, the smarter the theologian. (Sincerely, Jamie L.M.N.O.P Brown.)

8. OK, so we know what the first, second, and third uses of the law are. Could we all just agree that the fourth use of the law should be to keep that guy from asking the professor a question one minute before class is supposed to end?

9. If theology should lead to doxology, then the doxology should lead to free donuts outside after chapel.

10. Reading one book is good. Reading several books is better. Stacking up piles of books around your house and/or office makes you look REALLY smart.

And so as I come to the end of my brief 9-year seminary journey, I would like to thank my friends and family who supported me and encouraged me along the way, for RTS for helping me grow in my knowledge and love of the Lord, and for you, the readers of this blog that has been pretty inactive recently, for your patience and nice comments, especially on that “…Headed for a Crash” post 5 years ago.

In closing, here’s a picture of my new little boy. I think he’s pretty cute.