What They See is What You’ll Get

CongregationThey just stand there looking disinterested, disengaged, and unaffected by what they’re singing. Their bodies are stiff and their faces are stoic, betraying no emotion, no joy, and no life. Their eyes are glued to the lyrics in front of them as if they’re in a trance. The men don’t even sing. They all look uncomfortable. They look like they would rather be somewhere else. To call them “reserved” would be an understatement. They suck the energy out of the room.

And they call themselves the worship team!

It’s an interesting phenomenon for worship leaders to grab hold of: what they see is what you get.

Disinterested worship team = disinterested congregation.

Male instrumentalists not singing = men in the congregation not singing.

Zero expressiveness on the platform = zero expressiveness in the pews.

Worship leaders shouldn’t be surprised to look out and see a disinterested congregation if that’s what’s being modeled for them.

I am increasingly persuaded that this is the case: a congregation will not go beyond what they see modeled from up front.

A few months ago, I led worship for an evening session of the Anglican Church in North America’s inaugural assembly. To say that it was a challenging setting in which to lead would be an incredible understatement. We were in a crowded tent with low ceilings in the middle of summer in Texas. Five industrial-sized air conditioners lined the entire back wall going at full-blast (imagine the noise). The screens which were there to project the lyrics could hardly be seen. For many of the attendees this would be the first time they had ever heard a worship team or sung anything outside of a hymnal. The sight of drums on the platform could cause some to go into convulsions. The sight of an electric guitar could cause them to fall into a coma. During our sound-check people were plugging the ears and telling the sound engineers to “turn it down!” We had zero rehearsal. I had never played with half of the worship team before.

This was going to be interesting.

7:00pm rolled around and I welcomed the people – trying to read their faces and gauge whether or not they would even sing a single word once the songs started. We stood to sing and started off with Chris Tomlin’s “Holy is the Lord” – hoping that it would be a “new” song that most people would know.

The song began “We stand and lift our hands for the joy of the Lord is our strength.” Out of the corner of my eye I saw my electric guitarist and bass guitarist with their hands lifted in worship, singing to the Lord. Then I looked out at this group of Anglicans, who, five minutes earlier had been plugging their ears and looking a bit uncomfortable. I saw them, hundreds of them, with their hands lifted in worship, singing at the top of their lungs.

What they saw on the platform – I saw replicated in the congregation.

You can stand in the back of a room during a worship service and see this phenomenon displayed. Look at the worship team and then look at the congregation. They match!

A lot of instrumentalists and singers on worship teams don’t consider themselves “worship leaders”. They see that as the job of one person, and their job is to provide musical back-up to that person as he or she “leads worship”. That mindset leads to worship teams who just stand on a platform, with their faces buried in their music, offering no real leadership to the congregation. My goal is to cultivate members of the worship team who see their role as being a worship leader alongside me. Their musical responsibility is secondary to their primary responsibility of leading the congregation in encountering the greatness of God. When this priority is made clear, the dynamic on your worship team and in your services will change.

Look in the mirror the next time you lead worship. What do you see?

Serve Your Worship Team: Have the Music Ready

hourglassFew things frustrate volunteer musicians more than arriving to rehearsal on time – only to spend an hour or more waiting for the worship leader to find, copy, and organize music. It’s even worse when the music has wrong/misplaced chords, missing verses, wrong keys, etc. This not only leads to long (way too long) rehearsals, but to volunteers who are reluctant to commit any time to serving on the worship team since their time doesn’t seem to be valued.

I try hard to have the music printed out, correct, and organized for the worship team when they arrive for rehearsal. Whether I’m leading with a large team or just one other person, my goal is to have everything ready for them – not so that they’ll be impressed – but because I’m asking them to give up time away from their families, homes, and other responsibilities.

I encourage you, if you’re a worship leader in your church, to develop the habit of having the music ready at least a day before rehearsal. Whether you’re full-time, part-time, or volunteer, don’t procrastinate (even if you can justify it) and tell yourself it can wait. Usually that will mean your worship team will end up waiting – and that’s usually not a good thing.

Have the Music
Even if you encourage your musicians to bring it with them from home, it’s still a good idea to have music ready just in case they forget it. A ten minute run to the copier is a waste of everyone’s time. My guess is that my bass player would rather be at home with his wife than waiting for me to copy music for someone.

Have the Music in Order
Make it easy on you and your team and have everything in order. Having nine stacks of different songs lying around, yelling out the order numerous times, trying to find a song that got hidden under another song, etc., are all completely avoidable time-killers.

Have the Music Right
“Oh wait – that should be an A minor, not an A major.” “Which A major?” “The A major on top of the word ‘sing’ in verse three.” “Where?” “On top of the word ‘sing’ in verse three”. “Oh. In the first line or fourth line?” “Oh. I didn’t notice there were two A majors. I guess both times.” “Are you sure?” “Yes – both times.” “Oh, I was looking at verse two. Never mind.” “Here – bring me your chord chart and I’ll fix it.” “Ok, let me unplug my guitar and come over to you.” “It’s OK, I’ll come do it.”

If you had noticed the A major before you had copies it fifteen times, you would have saved everybody two minutes of confusion. Make sure the words and chords are correct, and make sure the right chords are on top of the right words!

Have the Music Ready
It’s probably not a good idea to be picking music the day of a rehearsal. I try to have my draft song list done by Tuesday, come back to it and finalize it on Thursday, get the song list and charts to my team that afternoon, and have a rehearsal on Saturday. There are times I change songs last-minute, but the bulk of them are chosen two days before rehearsal. Everyone’s timeframe will be different, of course.

Your worship team will thank you, their spouses will thank you, and you will notice a difference in morale at rehearsal.

Please Step Away From The Desk

cityThis past Wednesday I had the joy of eating lunch with one of the piano players on the worship team at my church. He’s a great guy, a godly man, and a good friend. We try to get together every 5 or 6 weeks to catch up, usually near his office in Washington D.C. I managed to find a parking spot downtown and we walked to lunch at a packed-out sandwich shop near the White House. For a politics nerd like me, this was a lot of fun.

We talked about what was going in our lives, and then I asked him how he’s been feeling about how things are going on the worship team and at Sunday services. He had a number of really helpful thoughts, observations, encouragements, and insightful critiques. He even took the time to email me some more detailed thoughts later on that afternoon about some of what we had talked about.

Getting together like this with worship team members who I know and trust has been an amazingly helpful thing through the years for several reasons.

First, it gets me outside the church bubble. I work full-time at the church and am on campus six days a week. It’s good for me to get out and see how members of the congregation and my worship team spend their week. It’s busy and intense where these guys spend their days and I’ll serve them more effectively if I know what they have to deal with. I’ll be more understanding when they’re late to an evening meeting, can’t come to an event, respond slowly to an email, or need some time off. I’ll also be more grateful when I see what a sacrifice they make to give up an evening away from home for a rehearsal or give up a vacation day to go on a conference. If I really want to care for and lead my team well, it’s good to get outside my church bubble and make time to be with them where they are.

Secondly, I need to hear what they have to say. Hearing answers to my questions like, “how have you felt about the last few services on Sunday mornings?” or “do you think we’ve been doing the right kinds of songs?” helps me not become isolated, unapproachable, or prideful. Ask questions. They don’t have to be complex. They can be quite simple. The more input you can receive as a worship leader, from all angles, the better off you’ll be.

Third, your team shouldn’t always come to where you are. If the only place you see your volunteers is at church, you’re missing out on actually having a relationship with your team. They’ll see their role as just filling a slot, and you’ll see them as people who just fill slots. Your team will only invest themselves in ministry if you invest yourself in them.

Finally, it gives you perspective. Hearing what’s going on the lives of people on the worship team, what they’re dealing with at work, how they’re spending their time, and what’s on their minds helps me remember that much of what I stress out about as a worship leader isn’t all that important at the end of the day.

I encourage you to build relationships with the people on your team. Make time to go to where they are and even share a meal with them. Find out what’s going on in their lives and ask them for their thoughts on rehearsals, services, music, worship, etc. You’ll be more effective the farther out of your bubble you can get.