As we enter the new year tomorrow, I’ve decided to start a new weekly post called “Worship Tips Wednesday” where I’ll share some helpful things I’ve learned while working with different team members. The tips are meant to be practical, and some of them will probably be somewhat obvious but often neglected.
Think of these as life-hacks for worship, except they actually work and won’t get tomato juice all over you. So without further ado…
5 Tips for All Worship Team Members
One thing that’s clear to anyone who has ever played on a worship team is that each person plays a different role. Drummers, guitarists, keyboardists, vocalists and other instrumentalists (we currently have a harp player on our team) each fill a position that is unique in how it is approached and understood. And if you consider your sound, lighting, and visual technicians part of the team (which I certainly do) then things become even more complicated.
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be offering thoughts on helping people in each of these positions become more effective. But for now I’d like to start with some tips that can help any member of a worship team, whether you are an instrumentalist, vocalist, AV technician or something else. Here are 5 tips for all worship team members:
1.) Listen to the Music
This is one of those tips that seem like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many times people on my team fail to do this. I post several different kinds of recordings for each song on our worship management site well in advance of our rehearsals. Yet more often than not there are at least a few people who show up not even knowing what songs we’re playing that week, let alone what they sound like or how to play/sing/mix them well.
Because music is an aural media (aka, one we hear) it is vitally important to spend time listening and engaging with music on a regular basis. Like a foreign language, the only real way to learn music is to immerse oneself in it and internalize it. You can learn how to read sheet music, chord charts, and guitar tabs all you want, but until you’ve spent the time listening, truly understanding and effectively playing music will be just beyond your reach.
Listen, listen again, and then listen some more. You won’t regret it.
2.) Follow the Leader
Musicians are by their nature creative types, which means our personalities do not always lend themselves to following instructions or staying within set boundaries and parameters. And yet with so many people playing their various roles, some sort of organization and direction is needed to turn these various parts into one beautiful whole. Like with an orchestra or choir, the only way to bring all of the creativity and dynamism of a worship team together is for there to be leadership and authority.
1 Peter 2:13 says, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority…” At the end of the day our job as part of a worship team is to submit to the authorities above us. For worship leaders that means submitting to the church leadership, whether it’s a pastor, elder board, or presbytery. For team members it means submitting to the team leader, even when we disagree with them. We have to die to ourselves and our own desires for the sake of our congregations and Jesus.
Of course that’s what being a Christian is all about.
3.) Know Your Role
As I’ve mentioned above a few times, each position on a worship team involves a different role and set of responsibilities. Drummers and bassists provide musical groove for the rest of the band; keyboards and guitars bring energy and connectivity to the songs; background vocalists provide vocal harmony and texture; sound engineers provide audio support to enhance the arrangement of the team. Each of these roles is essential, but they are also very specific.
Often with inexperienced team members I find that people don’t understand the part they play in the larger whole. So drummers play too much to fill out the sound, guitarists get too rhythmically complex to create groove and sound engineers emphasize the instruments they like best with no regard for the arrangement. This is often the reason why worship teams sound disjointed and unprofessional. But when everyone knows their own place in the mix, songs become beautiful works of art.
It might not always be as flashy as you like, but figure out what your role is and fill it the best you can.
4.) Practice and Grow
This is another one of those obvious pieces of advice that we all agree with but seldom actually follow. Whether you are a world renown pianist or just starting to learn some chords on the guitar, all of us can become better musicians. Yet many church musicians act as if their current musical skill level is good enough and they don’t need to improve. This perspective only serves to dilute and damage the worship that churches offer.
If our role as worship leaders is to serve our congregations and glorify God, we have to offer our very best, and that means learning and growing as musicians and Christians. We don’t have to be the best guitarist or vocalist or lighting technician in the history of the world, but we should honor those we serve by being the best we can be. So practicing and challenging ourselves is absolutely essential.
When living thing stop growing they start to die. The same is true for musical talent.
In the end none of us are really talented enough to lead people in worship. Our job is to provide space for people to encounter the living God week after week. It is a supernatural task that is far beyond our natural abilities. That is why we need the Holy Spirit to empower us in this remarkable calling.
The only way for us to gain the supernatural power needed is for us to ask God for it. We have to pray, and pray often. Without prayer our temptation is to assume we’re good enough on our own to lead people, which is fatal to any worship team. Prayer also keeps us humble and reminds us that the success of everything we do is in the hands of God. So let’s pray, and pray often that God would use us to do the good works he planned for us before the beginning of the world.
That is my prayer for myself and all of you as we enter 2015. Happy New Year!