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!

Ten Challenges for My Worship Team – Pt. 2

Yesterday I shared the first five of ten challenges I shared with my worship team a few months ago to get us all thinking about how we can serve our congregation in our specific setting as skillfully and humbly as we can. It’s good to talk principles with your team, but is also good to talk practicalities – often different for each team and each church.

Here are the last five challenges I shared.

6. We use a style of music that is new to many members of the congregation
“…The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23a). We need to show love for those who might find our style of music offensive. If we’re asked to pull back at a certain service we should do it with joy. If we hear a critical comment we need to have peace. If we want to see change happen overnight we need to be patient. A humble and Christ-like kindness should be how people, from all the different worship services, describe the worship team. A genuine and Spirit-enabled goodness should permeate our attitude. We need to be faithful to Christ and his church – not just the one service we might prefer. We should avoid sending any signal of forcing a style of music on anyone, but instead display a servant-like gentleness. Finally, we should be people who are self-controlled, not allowing for condescension, pride, or arrogance towards anyone or any service. May the fruit of the Spirit be abundantly evident in this worship team.

7. We live in a city that values intellect and suspects emotion
Think of all the “think-tanks” in this city. Now how many “emotion-tanks” have you ever heard of? It’s a silly question, of course, but it shows how much this culture values the intellect and marginalizes emotion. This mindset can creep into the church, resulting in congregations whose church services are cerebral and intellectual exercises with little freedom or biblical understanding of the place of emotion.

Of course there are churches that have the opposite problem. Emotionalism is just as unbalanced and incomplete as intellectualism. A kite needs a string in order to fly. A string needs a kite in order to be useful. Likewise, the head needs the heart and the heart needs the head. In our context at The Falls Church, we seek to model a head-and-heart balance in our corporate worship. We sing great, bible saturated, Gospel centered truth – truths that have changed our lives, and still affect our hearts to this day.

8. We are all volunteers
I get my paycheck from this church, but you all give of your time freely and sacrificially. You aren’t professional musicians so I don’t expect you to play or sing like them. Yes, we seek to play and sing as well and skillfully as we can, but we’re comfortable with our lack of studio-quality polish. You have jobs, family commitments, and commutes so I don’t expect you to spend a burdensome number of evenings or weekends here for meetings and/or rehearsals. One meeting every fourth Monday night of the month, and one or two weekends based on the need, and worked around your availability is a high bar of commitment but designed to be reachable.

9. We have a large worship team
We have 25 – 30 instrumentalists and singers on the worship team. This presents several different challenges. First, we need to make an effort at staying connected. Our monthly tune-up nights are crucial to this, which is one reason why everyone’s regular attendance is vital. There may be occasions when you have to miss, but regular “missing” may be a sign that you’re too busy to stay connected with the team during this season.

Second, there are some positions in which a limited number of people are suited to serve. These people may be called upon to serve more frequently than others. Conversely, there are other positions in which a greater number of people are suited to serve. These people may be called upon to serve less frequently. This is how the body works – with equally important members, but all with different roles. Different gifts, different levels of gifting, and different numbers of reinforcements are all part of how God has designed this body. For those members who serve more regularly, you are not more important than anyone else. For those members who serve less regularly, you are not less important than anyone else. You’re all part of a body which God is arranging.

10. We seek a healthy tension between humility and excellence
It is possible to seek after excellence without becoming proud. And it is possible to seek after humility without becoming mediocre. Only God will help us maintain a humble excellence. When our humility grows out of a deep awareness of our sin, awe of God’s holiness, and gratefulness for the finished work of the cross – then it will produce a skillfulness and excellence that seeks to proclaim the greatness of God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ten Challenges for My Worship Team – Pt. 1

A few months ago, I shared ten questions (pt.1, pt. 2) I asked my worship team at our monthly “tune-up night”. These questions were meant to get us all thinking about ways we can grow, keep maturing, and keep serving our church as skillfully and humbly as we can.

At our next meeting, I shared ten challenges for the worship team. These are challenges that are unique to our team at our specific church, but I thought it might be helpful for you to read a bit of what I shared.

It’s important for worship leaders to make sure their worship teams are growing in skill and humility. That was the goal of the ten questions.

It’s also important for worship leaders to help their worship teams grow in a love for their specific congregation, and think intentionally and wisely about the unique challenges they face. That was the goal of these ten challenges.

I encourage you to think about the unique challenges your worship team faces in the setting God has placed you, and help your team see how they are actually great opportunities to grow and give God glory.

1. We lead music at the largest service of the church (Sunday morning 11:00am)
This is a privilege and a responsibility which places us in a leadership position in front of a large portion of the congregation. We are being held up as examples, whether we like it or not, so it matters what kind of example we set. Are we living the life of a worshipper? Are we modeling genuine, God-centered worship when we’re scheduled on the team and when we aren’t? Are we growing in our areas of gifting? Do we feel the weight of this responsibility?

2. We lead music at the smallest service of the church (Saturday night 5:00pm)
This is also a privilege and a responsibility. Our level of enthusiasm and eagerness to serve should not depend upon the number of people attending a service. Leading at a small service helps keep us humble and protects us from thinking that any service in which we lead the music will be packed. Our job is to be prepared, to be faithful, and to be expectant whenever we stand before a congregation of any size. Finally, leading at a small service and a large service can guard us from thinking that the Holy Spirit is at work more powerfully in a crowded service and less powerfully in a small service. Neither is the case.

3. We have relatively short rehearsals
Some worship teams rehearse for hours and hours every week. Long rehearsals are usually inefficient, disrespectful of musicians’ time, and tiring. We aim for short rehearsals that are efficient, respectful of musicians’ time, and worshipful. In order to have short rehearsals, worship team members are expected to devote time to rehearse at home before they come to rehearsal. (Songs for the weekend are usually posted on Thursday afternoon.) It’s also helpful when everyone arrives early to set up so that we can start on time.

4. We arrange songs loosely
Arranged? Yes. Scripted? No. We will rarely decide ahead of time exactly how we will do a certain song. Most of the time, we will talk about the general outline of a song, how the song should be arranged, how we’ll transition from one part to the next, cues, how we’ll come out of a verse, etc., trusting that the Holy Spirit is leading us in our rehearsing. But in order to have the freedom to respond to the spontaneous direction of the Holy Spirit during a service, our songs are arranged loosely so that we all feel comfortable making last-second changes. In order to be comfortable with this, keep an eye on the worship leader, keep an ear out for his cues, pray for sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, and don’t stress out.

5. We step into a whirlwind on Sunday mornings
It is not uncommon for the 9:00am service to end at 10:30am, giving us 15 minutes to set-up, re-arrange a few things, tune, get monitor levels set, and get a quick sound check before our cut-off time of 10:45am. If we’re not careful, we will get stressed out and frazzled. Pray for God’s peace on Sunday mornings as we have limited rehearsal time. Allow this to be a reminder that we really need the power of the Holy Spirit if we hope to have any degree of real effectiveness as worship leaders.

Tomorrow I’ll share the last five challenges.

Getting Ready for the Worship Team Christmas Party

Tonight Catherine and I will be having the entire worship team and their spouses to our house for dinner. We’re providing the main dish (i.e. I’m picking it up and paying for it out of my church budget) as well as drinks, and inviting everyone else to bring a side, a salad, or a dessert. There will be a lot of people squeezed into our house, a lot of food, a lot of noise, and a lot of fun.

Our worship team gets together at the church every month (every fourth Monday night) for what we call “tune-up nights”. We eat pizza and snacks, have an unhurried time of singing and prayer, and have a teaching on some aspect of worship leading. A couple times a year, (usually December and June) in place of a tune-up night, we’ll have a worship team dinner/party at someone’s home. We usually don’t have monthly meetings in July or August.

As this is the first time we’ve hosted one of these dinners at our house, I’m realizing just how much work it is. But it’s worth it in so many ways. It’s so good for a worship team to get together regularly, to eat together, laugh, pray, and just hang out.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about how to have good and fruitful worship team dinners:

Don’t underestimate the power of a silly game to help your team bond
Somehow we’ve gotten into a tradition of playing a round of “Catch Phrase” with the entire worship team at our dinners (most of the time). Men versus women. 35 people in a giant circle. Mass chaos. Laughter. Tension. Taunting. You name it. It’s just a silly game but it helps the team bond. There are other, and probably better, games you can play with your team (your youth pastor will have ideas), but the point is to do something that will foster an atmosphere of family.

Take the opportunity to serve your team in practical ways
Take their coats. Pour their drinks. Take their plates when they’re done. Get them refills. Offer them dessert or coffee. Find small, practical ways to serve your team members and their spouses. It will bless them, and it will remind you of what your role really is.

Sing together
Every single time your worship team gets together, you should be singing together. Don’t just sing when you’re up front or plugged in. It might feel a bit uncomfortable for some people but it will get less awkward each time you do it. Getting a worship team to be comfortable worshipping together is crucial and will increase your effectiveness in leading the congregation in unity.

Let people connect with each other
If conversation is going well and people are enjoying one another’s company, don’t interrupt it. Worship team rehearsals and monthly meetings should be well planned-out and structured, but it’s OK for a dinner to be more relaxed and less structured. When people have finished eating and you can tell they’d be OK with being interrupted, that’s a good time to call them together for a few minutes if you’d like.

Invite spouses
Worship team spouses are the ones who have to get all the kids to church when their husband is playing drums or their wife is singing. They have evenings when the worship team member they’re married to isn’t home because of a rehearsal or a meeting. Make sure they know they’re invited to your dinners, and even your monthly meetings if they’d like to come, and make a point to thank them for their sacrifice and support.

Budget for it
It’s helpful if your church can cover the cost of food and supplies. Just a couple hundred dollars will go a long way.

Planning and organizing worship team dinners: A lot of work.
Buying paper plates, cups, and plastic ware: $20.00.
Providing a main course: ~$100.00.
Drinks: ~$30.00.
Catch Phrase“: $29.99.
A worship team that is actually a “team”: Priceless.