The Pre-Service Distraction

On each of the last three Sundays, about 15 minutes before the service was supposed to start, I was faced with out-of-the-blue things that had the potential of completely throwing and/or my worship team off for the whole service.

One Sunday as I walked into our back room to put my guitar cases away, I overhead a member of the congregation calling the service at which I lead the music the “shake your booty service”.

The next Sunday we wasted 10 of the 15 minutes we had for a sound check by trying to find those adaptors that let you plug a little headphone connector into a larger jack. Oh, and the sound guy couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t getting the bass guitar at the board. He finally figured it out but this meant we pretty much had no time to get a mix or our monitors settled.

The following Sunday we were rehearsing before the service and when we finished rehearsing one chorus of a song, I heard my drummer say, “there’s a mouse in here!” Sure enough, there were two mice running around inside the drum booth (or as we affectionately refer to it, the “space pod”), and when my drummer felt something underneath his foot, he looked down to discover a mouse. Lovely. Oh, and my singer that morning happened to have a phobia of rodents and was doing her best not to have a panic attack right then and there.

One Sunday it’s a critical comment. The next it’s an AV issue. And the following it’s something completely random like mice in the drum cage. They get me frustrated, tempt me to say short-tempered things, and make me feel tense and anxious. What’s going on here?

Well, some of it is just the way things go. People aren’t perfect and those imperfect people sometimes say hurtful things at bad times. Sound systems do funny things and adaptors disappear. And, I suppose if I was a mouse living in a church, the drum space pod would be a nice quiet place six and a half days out of the week.

But there’s a spiritual dynamic to it also. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that on the day that God’s people are gathering to glorify him, Satan will be actively seeking to steal that glory away. He has a history of that.

Whenever you lead worship, watch out for pre-service distractions (or even mid and post-service too!) since they can easily throw you off your game. You’ll need to keep your cool (I wrote some thoughts on this a while ago) and keep your focus. Don’t be surprised when they come up. Just deal with them humbly, prayerfully and light-heartedly and try to stay focused on the glory of God and the congregation that has gathered. Unless you feel a mice under your foot, in which case a scream might be appropriate.

When People Keep Coming to Church Late

Yesterday I received a very kind email from a worship team member at a church who asked how I would address this situation at their church:

We are trying to address an increasing issue of late arrival. We are a large church with two Sunday morning services and one Sunday evening service.

We start on time and our worship is near the begining of our service. We are finding that the sanctuary is not often filled until 20 minutes after the service starts. The worship time has finished by then.

Addressing tardiness is, in my view, 100% the responsibility of the pastor. He is the shepherd of the flock, and it’s his duty to cultivate sheep who see corporate worship as something that is crucial, and who see God’s greatness and glory in Jesus Christ as being reason enough for our getting to church on time. You should feel free, as a layperson or as a worship leader, to communicate your concern to your pastor, and tell him that you think he needs to address this issue with the congregation. Love, support, and submit to him, but don’t be afraid to tell him what you think. If your congregation is regularly very late to a service, he needs to say something and you’re right to encourage him to do so.

The worship leader should never address tardiness from the platform. I’ve seen worship leaders do this and it always creates a very tense dynamic. It feels like you show up late to someone’s house for dinner, and instead of welcoming you in and being a good host, they berate you for being late. Would you want to eat with that person? Would you even want to take your coat off and go inside? I wouldn’t. I’d rather get back in the car and go home. Same principle applies to latecomers and church. The worship leader has reason to be frustrated, but he has to keep trucking and be as good a host as he can be. Leave it to the pastor to address tardiness.

Some people are late because they’re just really bad at being on time. They’re late to everything: dentist appointments, their own wedding, work, and movies. I don’t know if there’s any hope for these people.

Some are late because of genuine hindrances like traffic, parking problems, getting four kids dressed, in their car seats, and in their Sunday school rooms, or newcomers who don’t really know where they’re going. Churches have a responsibility to think through every possible hindrance, and make their campus, schedule, and signage as conducive to moving a mass of people (and visitors especially) to their destinations with ease. If your church is laid out like a maze, don’t be surprised when tons of people come in late.

But some are late because they want to skip the worship. They don’t want to have to stand there and sing the songs. They’d rather take their time getting to church and get there after the singing is over, and be in time for the sermon. They see the time of singing together as being optional and unimportant. Again, I go back to the pastor. If your pastor agrees with this view, then I don’t think you’ll see a change in your congregation. For example, I know that in many churches the pastor isn’t even in the room during the singing. He shows up 30 minutes later when he appears on stage to preach. This sends a message to the congregation that the singing is something that can be skipped.

But hopefully, your pastor would be grieved by a congregation who sees corporate (sung) worship as being unimportant. The responsibility of changing this culture falls to him, and he’ll need your help and prayers as he seeks to change it.

To this end, I’d encourage you and your pastor to watch and seek to emulate this exhortation from Joshua Harris, the senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, as he seeks to shepherd his sheep to come to church eager, expectant and early.

Cold Turkey for Easter

This past weekend I decided it was time to break my addiction to chord charts. Yes, it was Easter weekend and I was leading the music at five services, but after the first service on Saturday night I realized that if I wanted to play the piano more creatively and lead the band and congregation more skillfully, it was the right time to do it.

So with the exception of a song we did that was Psalm 98 set to music, I led four Sunday services with no music in front of me.

I knew the chords. Once in a while I would forget how a certain chord progression was supposed to go, but since I wasn’t the only one playing, I just relied on the band in those moments until they jogged my memory.

I (mostly) knew the words. Every now and then I’d glance at the screen if I forget how the next verse of a song started, but most of the time I didn’t need to.

I knew which ones I didn’t know well. Like I said before, there was one song I didn’t know well enough to lead from memory, so I made sure I had music in front of me for that one. But as for the other songs, I didn’t need the music, so I went without. And I was fine.

I was able to play more creatively and sensitively because I wasn’t compulsively staring at a piece of paper the entire time. Being freed to play from my heart allowed me to try different things, play less, and enjoy it more.

And I was able to lead the band and congregation more skillfully because my attention wasn’t being directed towards a chord chart as often. I could look around, make eye contact with band members, and concentrate more on what we were singing and what God was doing.

I’m going to continue working on trying to break my addiction to chord charts. I’ll need to make sure I’m comfortable and familiar with the songs’ chords and lyrics, and be smart enough to know which songs I shouldn’t attempt to lead from memory. But I’ve gotten much too accustomed to not simply referring to chord charts occasionally – but staring at them mindlessly and unnecessarily. It’s a bad and unhealthy habit.

Of course it’s a good idea to rehearse with the music in front of you so you can learn it. And then once the service starts it’s probably smart to have it close by. But if at all possible, get comfortable enough with whatever songs you’re leading that you could get through them competently even if a gust of wind knocked your music stand down.

Now, if you’ll be less effective at leading your worship team and congregation, and play less skillfully if you don’t have music in front of you, then you should probably keep the music in front of you. But perhaps you can start by leading one song without music – or one verse or chorus – whatever you can do.

But if your affection for chord charts is limiting your effectiveness as a worship leader, then it’s probably a good idea to learn how to live without them.

“Respond to This”

Last Sunday morning at my church, one of our associate pastors, Bill Haley, preached a message titled “Jesus is Supreme: Don’t Neglect His Offer”. It was based on Hebrews 2:1-4, and was a call “not to neglect so great a salvation”. It was powerful.

As I began thinking and praying about what songs we should sing this weekend (Bill is preaching again, on Hebrews 2:9-18), I really felt strongly that we should spend the first half of our time together continuing to consider and respond to what we heard last week.

I asked Jon Crocker, my friend and brother-in-law, if he would be able to take some audio clips of Bill’s sermon from last week and make a short video with them for us to watch during our opening time of singing. He said if I gave him the audio clips, he’d be happy to do it.

So on Tuesday night I emailed Jon a transcript of what sound bites I wanted him to edit into a three-and-a-half minute long video. In three days, he put this video together, and we showed it at our weekend services:

Are there ways you can use creative gifts in your congregation to do things like this? People are usually glad to help if you ask them.

Are you moving on from last week’s message too quickly? Think about ways you can reinforce and respond to the previous week’s message.

Does your use of media (specifically videos like this) point people to Jesus? Fancy backgrounds, countdowns, lights, set designs, and videos can cost a lost of time and money but have zero lasting effect on people. Integrate media into your services intentionally and prayerfully. 

Things to Keep in Mind When You’re Driving Home On Sunday

Services are finished and you’re on your way home. Maybe you had a great Sunday where everything clicked. Maybe it was a rough Sunday where everything seemed to fall flat. Maybe you’re somewhere in the middle. Whatever the case, it’s Sunday afternoon and you’re pretty tired. Where does your mind turn?

Depending on the Sunday, you might be tempted to discouragement, or pride, or envy, or frustration. I know that, for me, I’m often tempted to replay in my head things I did well over and over, or obsess over things I could have done better.

Every worship leader, after pouring themselves into a service with several days (if not weeks) of planning and rehearsing, struggles with the post-service let-down. Here are some things I’ve found helpful to keep in mind when I’m driving home on Sunday afternoon:

I am very small. God is very big.
Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power”. So don’t get caught up in yourself. The world revolves around Jesus, not you or your church.

God sees different things than I see
Maybe I’m discouraged because people didn’t “look engaged”. Keep in mind that “…the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.

The things that frustrate you are good for you
Your drummer can’t keep a beat, your pastor doesn’t sing along, your lyrics operator pulled up last week’s file and didn’t realize until halfway through the second song, no one sang along, your guitar string broke again, etc., etc.

All of these things will make you a better worship leader. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2-3.

The church needs more worship leaders who will be joyfully “steadfast” in serving their congregations and worship teams.

A week from now you’ll get another chance
If God is “greatly to be praised”, and if “his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3), then no single service will ever be too bad or too good to follow-up one week later. It really isn’t about you! This is really, really good news.

God is receiving unceasing worship right now around the throne
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” (Revelation 7:9-12)

Never forget that when your Sunday service starts, you’re merely joining in. And when your service ends, the praises keep on going and going and going.

Stay humble
I will never forget the day I was taking a walk and lamenting all the “ways” I wasn’t “getting my way”, when God spoke loudly and clearly to me “Lucifer fell because he wanted my glory”. These words still ring in my ears.

When I demonstrate pride, I demonstrate a desire to receive the glory that God alone is due. God warns us clearly that he “opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. (James 4:6).

Earnestly, actively, intentionally, and brutally attack pride in your heart, especially when you get in your car to drive home after leading worship.

“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115:1).