Worship Blog

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Worship Ministry in the Summer...

Worship Ministry in the Summer...

By Jon Nicol   |  July 13, 2012

Summer's half over.

OK, those 21 days in September are still technically in the same season. But for many of us, especially here in the States, our summer ends with Labor Day weekend.

Sorry for the downer.

I would guess the rhythms of life in summer affect your church as much as they do mine. So rather than me blather on about my bass players all being gone the same week or having to pick up a few preaching spots while my senior pastor goes on vacation, I want to hear from YOU.

Use the comment section as your own blog post and tell us few things about your worship ministry in the summer. Here's a suggested outline, but feel free to riff with your own.

  • Quick summary - Where are you located and how does your summer change
  • What are the challenges of worship ministry in summer for you
  • What are some creative ways that you've embraced those challenges and culture changes
  • What are you doing to refresh/revive yourself this summer?

I'm looking forward to learning from you (i.e. stealing ideas). But remember, for this blog post to be any good to anyone, you'll need to participate.

So...tell me about summer worship ministry in your church.

Eight Things to Think About When Scheduling Musicians

Eight Things to Think About When Scheduling Musicians

By Jon Nicol   |  July 12, 2012

Creating a musician schedule is:

1. Not a time to keep everyone on your team happy.

It’s not going to happen. Someone is scheduled more than they want. Less than they want. With someone they don’t click with.

The team schedule or rotation can’t be held hostage by every person’s wishes.

2. Not a place to be completely fair.

What affects who gets scheduled?

Availability? Attitude? Talent? Tenure?

Are they available to play? Do they have a great attitude? Do they have the talent to do what needs to be done in that particular service? And then there’s tenure…

Does seniority and longevity warrant preferential treatment? All things equal, do you give the spot to the person with seniority on the team? That’s a tough one.

All I can say is that your schedule won’t be fair from someone’s perspective.

3. Where you begin planning your music.

The abilities and the combination of musicians that you schedule should influence the music you choose for that week. Play to their strengths. Avoid their weaknesses.

For instance, if you have a guitar-driven band with a so-so keyboardist laying down some simple pads, don’t do a piano driven song that week. Or if you do, rearrange it to be guitar driven.

4. Where you can intentionally give people a much needed week off.

Everyone needs time off. Period. End of sentence. Full stop.

If you have someone who won’t take a rest, schedule it for them. Besides the R&R, the view from the pew can be enlightening for the over-scheduled.

5. Where you can intentionally decide not to play with a full band.

Sometimes, it’s good to simplify things. Some Sunday, give half the band the week off and run with just a guitarist, a percussionist and two vocalists. People will appreciate the change in feel. And it’ll also help them to understand they don’t need a full band to worship. And, it will help you do #4.

6. A way to serve your team with good administration.

I’m learning more and more that good administration - including communication, scheduling and other systems - serves your team. It communicates that I value them and the ministry when I make sure the new musician schedule is up well before we need it.

7. A great time to prayer over your team and the upcoming Sundays.

As you plan your month, pray for your people. And pray for the services that you are scheduling. You never know what God wants to do in those services.

8. Necessary even when your musician team is only “one deep.”

A lot of smaller churches don’t bother scheduling because they only have one person at each position. But for all these reasons listed here, begin scheduling.

Eleven Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 8

Eleven Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 8

By Jon Nicol   |  July 11, 2012

Deadly Sin #11: Segue?! What’s a segue?

The band is rocking. The vocalists are singing their lungs out. The congregation is beginning to engage in worship. We are moving forward.

Then, like a Hyundai driving into the side of a Dollar General store, all forward momentum stops.

We practiced each song thoroughly, polishing every one from intro to ending. But what about ending to intro? No one planned what to do when one song ended and the next one started.

Transitions happen. They can be a smooth and unnoticed movement from one set of tracks to the other. Or they can be a train wreck.

An unplanned transition kills forward momentum. It jars worshipers out of a moment and forces them to focus on who’s leading worship versus Who they’re worshiping.

It’s a deadly sin, no question. But how do avoid this sin?

Plan, practice and assign your segues.

Plan your segues. Determine what needs to happen to get from this song to this song. Or from one worship service element to the next. Create a plan to bridge the gap.

Practice your segues. Don’t just talk about how you’re going to transition. Do it. Over and over until it’s right.

Assign your segues. For each segue, at least one person should be assigned to make the transition happen.

  • It might be the drummer who counts in the next song as the last notes of the previous song ring out.
  • It might be the vocalist who begins reading scripture along with the guitarist who underscores the reading in the same key as the next song.
  • It might be the worship leader saying a short, but well thought-out prayer while she slips her capo on to start the next song.

It just has to be someone driving the bus from the end of point A to the beginning of point B.

29 Worship Tools for Under $29, Part 11

29 Worship Tools for Under $29, Part 11

By Jon Nicol   |  July 10, 2012

#19 - The Cut Capo
I’m not sure how many years ago it was, but I had an extra Kyser Capo laying around that someone had abandoned at my church. I didn’t really need it, and I didn’t know anyone at the time who needed. So there it sat. Until…

I heard about a technique to get a DADGAD (alternate tuning) sound, without having to learn all wonky fingerings that come with alternate tunings. It was achieved by a partial or “cut” capo. So out came the razor blade and off went ½ of the extra capo.

I sliced away the padded rubber bar that presses strings 6, 2 and 1. Then with these newly formed voids, I could capo at the second and while still leaving strings 6, 2, 1 open. The result was the ability to  emulate an Open DADGAD sound (actually, it’s whole step up – EBEABE – but “eebee-abe” doesn’t have the same ring as “dadgad”). But again, none of the foreign, open-tuning fingerings were required.

So if you have an extra capo laying around and you don’t mind risking lacerated fingers, go ahead and cut your own capo.

But…for those of you who can recognize frugality crossing the line to stupidity, just buy a cut capo. The most popular and easy to use cut capo is the Kyser Short-Cut Capo.

Whenever I lead from acoustic, I almost always play at least one or two songs with the cut capo. I’ve found it especially helpful when I’m playing with another acoustic. Rather than fight over the mushy middle with open position chords, I move the cut capo up the neck with a standard capo behind it.

For example, if you were playing a song in G, like Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons, put your cut capo at fret 5, the standard capo at 3, transpose your chords up a 5th (that is, a G becomes a B, an Am becomes an Em, etc.) and bam – you’ve got an almost mandolin-ish sounding instrument.

So to whet your appetite to buy this worship tool, here’s a video lesson I did for cut capo. If you to see more diagrams and notes, you can find that at the guitar lesson page.

Eight Tips to Lead Alongside Spouse, Part 3

Eight Tips to Lead Alongside Spouse, Part 3

By Claire Musters   |  July 9, 2012

Wrapping up this great series from Claire Musters on leading worship with your significant other...

Three Truths About Small Church Worship

Three Truths About Small Church Worship

By Jon Nicol   |  July 6, 2012

Here are three truths about leading worship in a small church that I wish I had learned sooner ...

Seven Worship Planning Pitfalls

Seven Worship Planning Pitfalls

By Jon Nicol   |  June 28, 2012

Being off recently, I’ve had opportunity to see other teams in action. I’ve seen some services that have challenged me to step up my game. And I’ve seen some that made me glad I was only visiting.

We rely on leaders, musicians and musicianship to create quality worship gatherings that engage. But it starts in the service planning stage. Here are seven planning pitfalls I’ve encountered that can hinder the worship service.

1. Failing to forget it’s a journey

We need to look at our service as a story or a journey – something with a beginning, middle and end. What’s the destination this Sunday? What’s the route we’ll take? What modes of transportation will we use to get there? How do we begin? How do we end?

If we can figure this out, most of these other pitfalls will be avoided by default.

2. Neglecting a solid welcome

We often leave the “welcome” for the senior pastor. But as the worship leader, we need to be intentional about establishing rapport with our congregation. Here are a few ideas:

  • Tell them your name and what you do, then make it about them and God. “I’m Sally, the worship director here at First Church. Thanks so much for gathering today to worship God”
  • Smile.
  • Make eye contact as you talk
  • Underscore part or all of it with upbeat music leading into opening song
  • Use a short scripture or brief encouragement to worship
  • Tell them what to expect. Especially if you see new people come in. A brief and well-thought synopsis of the service can engage guests and regulars alike.
  • Be brief.

3. Poorly placed new songs

I was recently at a service where the team book-ended the service with unfamiliar songs. Nor was either song easily caught.

The opening and closing of services is prime real estate. One sets the tone for the remainder of the service. One solidifies the entire worship experience. We need to make the most of the of those two moments.

4. Too many new songs

Besides just the placement of new songs is the pitfall of including too many new songs. People will check out if they are struggling to connect song after song. I try to have at least a 3:1 ratio of familiar to new songs.

And remember, a song that’s become common to us as worship musicians is probably just starting to catch on with the congregation. (For more on this, check out the free resource SongCycle.)

5. Too many mid-tempo songs

I call them “big mid-tempo anthems.” You know, Mighty to Save, Great I Am, Revelation Song, et al. It’s during these songs that the church roof blows off and we are at the edge of the throne room in worship.

However.

I was recently in a worship service where every song fit in that big mid-tempo anthem category. By the end of the fourth tune, I felt like I was staggering to the finish line of the Iron Man Triathlon. (Although I had not yet lost control of bodily functions. But it was close.)

Remember, we’re on journey. The best ones have variety.

6. Failure to plan segues

I’ve mentioned this one in other posts, articles and resources. Why? Because it’s HUGE. If worship is a journey, a lousy transition is a speed bump. Or a dead stop on the freeway. Or a derailed train. Regardless to what extent it is, it stalls forward momentum and allows the focus to shift from Who we are worshiping to how we are worshiping.

7. Dismal dismissal

Plan the ending. If the senior pastor takes care of that, great. But if it’s on me, I need to make sure we are sending our people out in a meaningful way. And this doesn’t just have to do with closing song choice.  Here are some closing elements to think through:

  • Is there a benediction spoken over the congregation, or a closing prayer? Who’s doing that? Can it be intentionally tied in to the message? Should it be underscored with music?
  • How long is the service? If lengthy, maybe the closing song should be abridged.
  • Does the service need a closing song, or is it just tradition? Often closing songs are ground cover for poorly planned sermon conclusions. (You might not want to say it quite so bluntly to your senior pastor, however.)
  • What happens the moment people are dismissed. Dead silence? Or is the band ready to kick into an exit song. If not, have the tech ready to fade in some music. Make sure you pick the exit song or postlude music to match the feel of the closing.

The "failure to plan/planning to fail" axiom definitely applies in this discussion of pitfalls. All this planning might feel like a lot of work for only one hour once a week. But multiply that one hour by the number of worshipers, and we begin to see the true scope of our investment.

Caution: Life-Changing Worship May be Awkward

Caution: Life-Changing Worship May be Awkward

By Jon Nicol   |  June 27, 2012

I returned from a 7-day spiritual retreat Monday. The event focused on inner healing.

 And I was long overdue.

While I’m still processing all that I experienced, one of the things that struck me was that how awkward it all was.

You’re Going to Pour That on Me? Really?
There were practices from other Christian traditions that were foreign and weird. I can tell you that for me, a lifetime evangelical protestant, to grip a crucifix while being sprinkled with holy water was a tad awkward. But after awhile, I began to welcome these different outward symbols and expressions of God’s inward work in my heart and soul.

Happy Hands Club
Our times of worship before the teaching weren’t musically polished or free from distractions, but they were powerful.

Happy Hands ClubHowever, when the worship leader came out one day without her guitar and had us circle up for a worship dance, I was ready to make my own retreat. I felt like I was in the Happy Hands Club from Napoleon Dynamite.

But on one of the last days, we used dance to express the truth of Chris Tomlin’s “I Lift My Hands.” I found myself dropping my guard and finding significance in the expression. While I might not be ready to adopt it as the main form of worship expression in my church, I’m beginning to see the power of movement and dance.

But was it still awkward? Oh you betcha.

(True)Community
Then there was the level of honesty shared with each other in one-on-one sessions and small group meetings. Eventually that honest communication began to creep into our meal times, late night discussions and our worship sessions.

It was the first time I’ve ever experienced that level of Biblical community. But was it awkward getting there? Yes. And even painful at times.

I guess what I’m realizing is that God sometimes meets us in our ideal experiences – the kind that we create at conferences and special services and that looks so inviting in the full-color brochure pictures.

But sometimes God chooses to use the awkward and broken moments. The times we’re off our game, or out of it completely. And He might choose to speak and work through the strange and foreign, the stuff we assume is for that other brand of Christian.

Above all, He wants to us to experience Him within the context of authentic community. The kind you can’t get a from a small group curriculum or how-to book. God wants us to drink his grace in depths that can only be reached through raw and honest relationships.

I don’t know about yours, but my church’s worship doesn’t look much like this. But maybe someday it could.

And if had to guess, I’d say getting there just might be a tad awkward.

Eight Tips to Lead Alongside Your Spouse, Part 2

Eight Tips to Lead Alongside Your Spouse, Part 2

By Claire Musters   |  June 26, 2012
Today's post is part 2 of 3 from guest contributor, Claire Musters. Read part one of "Eight Tips" here.

 

3. Include others in your preparation

It can be easy just to think that you have everything covered, as you are a two-person team. Preparing for team building days or practises can be fairly easy as you can do it at home together and don’t need to arrange to see anyone else. But that doesn’t build team, and it is always a good idea to include others – particularly those who you can see have a gifting for leadership. Why not ask them to participate by leading a particular section of the evening?

4. Don’t cling on to your position just because it works today

Above I’ve talked about bringing on those with leadership potential. These are the guys who may take your position in the future – and that’s a good thing! We shouldn’t hold on to our positions in church so tightly that God doesn’t have room to develop anyone else. There may come a time when God asks one or both of you to step down from your role – for whatever reason (bringing on someone else, to give you a break, because He wants to use you elsewhere).

If you get so used to doing things your way (and when I say ‘your’ I mean the way you do things as a couple) there will be no room for anyone else – and that’s a real shame. Because without movement things stagnate…

Lex Buckley and husband Paul met at Soul Survivor Watford and have gone on to lead worship departments in the USA and New Zealand. She raises the very pertinent point of how vital it is to embrace those times when you simply need to support what your spouse is doing, rather than being specifically involved yourself:

It’s so important to totally support each other and cheer each other on, always preferring one another. We have found that there are seasons where God opens a door for one of us to step forward, which especially now that we have kids, requires the other to step back. When you are on the same team you need to rejoice in the opportunities God gives your spouse and embrace the ‘stepping back’.”

This is something I can totally relate to. I have to admit, being a bit of a rookie as far as worship leading was concerned, having my husband by my side was a real comfort to me at the start. But a few years ago he became associate pastor of the church, and so he isn’t able to actively get involved on a Sunday morning so much (although he still heads up the team with me). I had to do a fair amount of adjusting when this first happened. While I was really pleased he was using his God-given gifts to preach regularly, it took me a while to truly accept and believe in my own gift for worship leading and have the confidence to stand up there on my own.

Questioning our Deepest Desires

Questioning our Deepest Desires

By Jon Nicol   |  June 22, 2012

 

 

Do you know what your core longings* are?

Let me tell you in no particular order:

Significance

     Purpose

           Understanding

                 Security

                       Belonging

 Love.

 You need…

… your existence to matter; to go beyond being noticed to being celebrated.

…to have a driving motivation and undeniable reason for that existence.

…to be more than understood. You hunger to be known deeply.

…safety and protection. You need a defender.

…to find yourself in a family that not only accepts you, but can’t imagine life without you.

…to know someone both cares and longs for you (and would go to scandalous lengths to show it).

From the Garden till now, we’ve had these deep wants in our soul. But when we left the Garden, we’ve been, well, left wanting.

And with our backs toward Eden, we began to search this world - this universe - for the Object of our longings. In our search, we’ve settled for lesser sources to fill us. Only to be disappointed.

Fooled.

    Bruised.

        Mocked.

            Kidnapped.

                Deceived.

                      Rejected.

And unimaginably wounded.

How deeply are these longings carved into our hearts that we would endure this?

But what if the One who carved these deep voids had intended to be One to fill them?

And what if, being both the Origin and the Object of our longings, He now could become the Repairer…

   Restorer…

       Mender…

            Comforter…

                 Truth-whisperer…

                       Rescuer…

And Healer?

And what if He became those so that we could once again have our deepest longings satisfied?

What if?

Why You Should Use a Score App, Part 2

Why You Should Use a Score App, Part 2

By Scott Kantner   |  June 21, 2012
While I've been away, I've asked a few friends to cover the blog for me. This is the part 2 of a post by Scott Kantner about playing using score app on your iPad. Here's part one if you've missed it.

The Playing Experience
Performing with a score app has it's own set of nuances you must prepare for in advance. The first thing you'll notice is that the music is presented in a smaller space, and, there is only one page showing at a time. Your eyes will have to adjust to reading a smaller score, and you will not be able to read ahead past the current page. If you've been accustomed to having multiple full-size paper sheets side by side, this may initially feel a bit uncomfortable.

Page turns, while now very fast, may also require a period of visual adjustment. In the past, a page turn required a certain amount of time for you to reach up, move the page, and then get your hand back down. Your eyes are quite accustomed to the timing of that process, and your brain knows when to expect the next page to be visible and playable. But now as you tap the screen, the next page flashes into view almost instantly.  This "flash" will require some adjustment, as the transition is very sudden, and your eyes must pick up the next note much more quickly.

For this reason, some musicians prefer to use score apps that can do animated or scrolling page transitions. These features cause the page turn to take a just a tiny bit longer, but the effect on the eyes is much less abrupt. Bottom line: Experiment with your app's page transition options while you rehearse until yours eyes are comfortable with the new timing.

Foot Pedal Prep
If you decide to use a wireless foot pedal, you'll need to be able to find it without looking down. Unless you're a classical organist, this could be a new and frustrating experience. Many pedal solutions actually feature two pedals so that you can page forwards with one and backwards with the other, so you’ll need to find both pedals without looking.

One temptation might be to rest your foot on the pedals to keep track of where they are, but doing so risks accidentally triggering unwanted page turns. Not recommended. Hint: Think of your foot as a "pivoting hinge." Place your heel midway between the pedals so that you can reach either by just pivoting left or right on your heel and tapping down when needed. It takes some discipline to keep your foot anchored in one place, especially during live performance. Once again, practice is key.

Pedals also have a tendency to "walk" away from your foot as you use them, so placing them against some sort of backstop, or on top of rubber mat or other non-smooth surface, may be necessary.

Conclusion
Playing with a score app definitely involves a little up front work and an adjustment period, but the benefits far outweigh the time and effort required.  When the worries of missed page turns and all the other risks of paper music are removed, your mind is free to focus on pouring yourself into the music and becoming more fully engaged in the worship experience. 

Question - For those of you who've never used a score app - what's your biggest concern/fear in using something like this?

Why You Should Use a Score App, Part 1

Why You Should Use a Score App, Part 1

By Scott Kantner   |  June 20, 2012

While I'm off for a week, I've asked some friends to contribute to the blog. I met Scott Kantner through the 48Days.net community. He knows a whole lot about worship technology, and has a heart to implement it well in church ministry. One of the areas he’s passionate about is using a “score app” – so passionate that he created one himself.

Before Scott takes over, I’ll contribute one thing to this topic, Why You Should Use a Score App:

It’s a GREAT excuse to buy an iPad.

That’s about as far as my expertise in this area allows. Here’s Scott to give you skinny on using your iPad for more than just Words With Friends.

The ability to play without written music is a gift not every worship musician receives. For those without the gift, the need for a written score of some kind is simply non-negotiable, especially for piano and keyboard players who often have many more notes to play. Certainly it's possible for most musicians to memorize a simple four-chord progression for a song or two. But on balance, the dynamic nature of weekly music ministry means that worship teams deal with a lot of paper music every Sunday.

sheet music nightmare

Tragically, the issues of managing the paper during the service often become a distraction that steals one's focus away from worship. With both hands on the keyboard flying along at a fast tempo, the paperbound piano player worries about jumping four pages backward to catch a segno, and then five pages forward to hit the coda.

And Heaven forbid the worship leader changes the roadmap mid-flight to pick up another refrain!

All of this mental stress is not conducive to a good worship experience for the musician, and quite possibly the congregation also. Happily, a practical solution has emerged in the form of Apple's iPad and a class of apps known as "score apps."  Using a score app, the hassles of paper music can largely be eliminated and genuine focus on worship can be regained. If you struggle with paper music, you owe it to yourself to at least investigate this new alternative.

The Basics
Score apps work with music either in Adobe PDF format, or in a proprietary format created by the app's developer. Using a proprietary format means you will only be able use music purchased from particular vendors, which besides being expensive, may limit the music available to you.

Far more popular is the PDF format. To use a PDF-based app, you will either need to buy your music in PDF format or convert your existing paper music by scanning it into a PDF file. Most modestly priced scanners are capable of creating quality PDF files. Once you have your music in PDF format, there are number of ways to load it into the app. The first way is to simply use iTunes, much in the same way you would sync mp3 files to an iPod.  Adding PDFs into the app is a very straightforward drag/drop process, and virtually all score apps support this method. Some apps also allow you to open PDF's emailed to you as attachments, or by downloading them from a DropBox account.

Though their bells and whistles vary, all score apps do at least one thing well: they present the music one page at a time and make it possible to move effortlessly through the pages. By either tapping or swiping, pages can be advanced forward or backward one at a time. Some apps, such as NextPage, allow one-tap jumps to any other page in a song, putting codas and segnos just one tap away.

Many score apps even support the use of wireless foot pedals, allowing musicians to keep both hands on their instrument and turning the pages with their foot. Beyond page turning, score apps also allow you to manage your song library, arrange songs into set lists, annotate music with performance notes and markings, and even share music with other team members over WiFi or Bluetooth connections.

In part two, Scott talks about actually using a score app in worship.

Eight Tips to Lead Alongside Your Spouse, Part 1

Eight Tips to Lead Alongside Your Spouse, Part 1

By Claire Musters   |  June 19, 2012

While I'm off for a week, I've asked some friends to contribute to the blog. I met Claire Musters through a review she wrote on the Musicademy blog for my ebook, Eight Words. She made me sound smart and talented. (Did I tell you she mostly writes fiction?)

Claire brings a unique perspective of leading worship - and that's leading with her spouse. She also juggles a freelance writing career and "mum" duties. So many of you will be able to relate with her. This short series will run each Tuesday for the next three weeks.

And by the way, she's British. So mind the gap and feel free to ask her to clarify in the comment section what practise, rota, and any other British-isms she drops on us.

[Learn more about Claire.]


I have been part of Sutton Family Church (in the Greater London area) for 10 years now, which is when the church first started. Being part of a church plant was exciting, stretching, and demanding. It also gave me opportunities that I may never have had in a bigger church.

As the only musician I quickly learned how to worship lead on the job (something I’d never done in our previous church – and yes, I made a lot of mistakes!). Before too long our church started growing and we were getting blessed with more and more musicians.

As a record producer, my husband had great ears for musicianship and, alongside heading up the PA team, he and I were asked to co-lead our growing worship team.

In my capacity as a freelance writer I have started writing about some of our experiences of building and growing team as well as general thoughts on worship. But here Jon has asked me to concentrate on what it is like to work alongside my husband as we head up our worship team.

Firstly, let me say that it is a great blessing to partner with my husband – we know each other so well, both love worship and seeing people reach their potential, and so having the opportunity to work together on the worship team is a real honour.

However there are some things we have to consider and what I’ve put below are the things that I think we, as a married couple, need to bear in mind as we seek to lead God’s team – and I hope they help others of you who are also married and serving in this way. I have also asked some other worship leaders, who lead teams alongside their husbands, for their input too, which you will find interspersed below throughout this short series.

1. Pray, pray, and pray. (Then pray some more…)

Nothing builds unity and direction like prayer. While you may pray together generally, make time to pray specifically for the worship team too:

  • pray for wisdom and guidance as you lead them.
  • Pray for individual members of the team as well, as you are pastorally responsible for them.

When I asked Beth Redman, who has led worship with husband Matt* many times, what her advice would be she said:

“Make time to pray and worship in private together. It is then reflected in your ‘on stage worship’ and unity brings such blessing and ease as you lead.”

This is so true.

2. Clarity of communication

Make sure you communicate everything clearly to members of your team. While you and your partner may know exactly what each other means just by a look or movement of the head, you need to ensure everyone else does. So always be absolutely clear when you are communicating direction, vision etc.

When you are preparing for a team evening, for example, try and read what the other person has prepared with fresh eyes – and if you need a different perspective, as you know each other too well, ask someone on your team for feedback on it.

The same goes for when you are actually worship leading too. My husband and I started out leading together a lot and I found I could just point to something, or look at him, and he’d know where I wanted things to go. But I had to make an extra effort to be clear with my signalling to other members of the band – so doing something that was easy for my husband to understand didn’t help if it left the rest of the team floundering.

Read Eight Tips to Lead Alongside Your Spouse, Part 2

Three Reminders Every Worship Leader Needs

Three Reminders Every Worship Leader Needs

By Roger O'Neel   |  June 18, 2012
While I'm off for a week, I've asked some friends to contribute to the blog. Today's post is from Roger O'Neel. Roger is Associate Professor of Music and Worship at Cedarville University and directs the Worship Program.  His personal blog is worshipblogger.com.


We recently took a extended family vacation out of the country. It was a great time of rest and relaxation, both personally and for us as a family. I came home with three simple reminders from my time away.

Help Yourself
On the airplane, safety videos play the perfunctory announcements about exit rows, life rafts and air masks. Usually they are ignored by all but the rookies and paranoid people. Nevertheless, one of them catches my attention almost every time. It is the safety instruction that says "if you are traveling with small children or infants, put on your mask first before helping others."

This seems so counterintuitive. It would seem that children would be more susceptible to lower oxygen pressure, have higher respiration rates and smaller lungs (thus needing more air), and would need more help than adults. However, as adults, we have an important role to care for them, and we must make sure that we are in a position to be able to help. We need to be breathing well before helping others.

Likewise, as worship leaders, we have a caretaking role. To properly lead and shepherd, we need to be healthy and in a position to be able to help others. This is a reminder to me to take time to be "breathing deeply" spiritually before helping others. Perhaps we need to recall the admonintion from Eph. 5 about "be being filled with the Spirit". Perhaps we need to feed ourselves from the Word of God before trying to share it with others. As caregivers, we need to also be taking care of ourselves. If we are not in good shape spiritually, we will not be able to help others who may need it.

Unplug Your Stuff
Being out of the country meant our normal cell phone plan wouldn't work. We would have to add international calling and data and this would be very expensive. We were also away from any regular internet service. Almost every member of the family was touched in the electronic blackout.

How did it work? Great. Even though we have family members who are avid texters, internet aficionados, and social networkers, we really did well. No more worrying about emails to return or voice mail to check. Time spent doing those things was spent relaxing or with family.

So now, back to reality. Email to return, voice mail to check, and blogs to post. Being without these things, however, was a good reminder that we can live without them, and that we need to control them instead of them controlling us.

It is also good to be reminded that we need to retreat from things that vie for our attention. Jesus took time for solitude. Sometimes we may just need to turn off the radio, internet or phones to be able to clearly hear from God. Tozer said this,

"God will speak to the hearts of those who prepare themselves to hear; and conversely, those who do not prepare themselves will hear nothing even though the Word of God is falling on their outer ears every Sunday."

Relationship vs. Activity
The best thing about the trip was deepening relationships with our kids. When you have shared experiences, you strengthen the common bonds that you have. The poignant moments, the funny stories and the inside jokes will forevermore be in the family psyche.

My eight year old daughter perhaps taught me the most about relationships on this trip. She is very much a "daddy's girl". I love to snorkel and took all of the kids who wanted to go, but none of them love to go as much as I do. So I got to the point that no one was interested in going. Except her. For me, this was a snorkeling trip. For her, it was being with daddy.

The reminder to me was that for my daughter, nothing that we did together was as important as just being together. I am afraid that I often focus on activity rather than just being. This is true not only in my human relationships, but also in my relationship with God. I find myself being Martha, performing duties for Jesus. Luke 10 records what Jesus said to her:

41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed - or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

May we all be more like Mary, and be people who are Abba's boys and Abba's girls, who love to be with Him.

 

Platform Expression: A Team Devotional to Help Check Your Heart

Platform Expression: A Team Devotional to Help Check Your Heart

By Jon Nicol   |  June 15, 2012

This week we've been talking about various issues of platform expression. I thought it might be a good time to revisit this post/devotional. One of the tensions we face as lead worshipers is finding that we can find ourselves "worship" differently on and off the platform.

The expression that comes easily to us on the platform may not happen as freely when we're part of the congregation. There's no easy solutions.

I've had this discussion with several different worship teams in my seminars and workshops. Each one has given me greater insight and more perspective into this worship musician "tension." So I'd encourage you to take a moment to give your thoughts and experiences on this topic in the comments. I'd really love to hear from you.

Here's the repost of Heart Check #3:

Expression in Worship: A [Free] Video Resource

Expression in Worship: A [Free] Video Resource

By Jon Nicol   |  June 14, 2012

Yesterday we talked about the visual aspect of worship leading. I wanted to follow it up with great resource I've used with my team.

Gateway Worship is extremely generous in their sharing of material. They produced this video to train their musicians about platform presence and expression.

Before you dive into this video, let me say a few a things.

1. Don't miss the forest for the trees. This video is geared for their church and culture. You may find their movement too expressive for your church. But the Biblical principles are still the same, whether you're encouraging more fervant dancing or introducing clapping on 2 and 4 for the first time.

2. It's a process. You'll need to revisit this topic and video many times over the next months and years in order shift the culture of your team from platform statues to expressive lead worshipers.

Alright - enough yapping from me, here's the video:

Your Worship Team is Boring

Your Worship Team is Boring

By Jon Nicol   |  June 13, 2012

Have you ever heard the studies about how much of our communication is non-verbal – that is, how we say something and what our face and body are doing?

Some say that 30% of communication is non-verbal. Others say 55%. I’ve also seen this stat as high as 93%.

But as we all know, studies show that 68% of all statistics are made up on the spot.

Regardless of the scientific evidence, we know that our physical expression is a significant portion of what we communicate.

So why do our worship teams look like bored statues in a cemetery? Seriously.

I mean, I’ve been in worship services where watching at tree bark grow might have been more worship-inciting.

I’m not advocating jumping up and down and fist-pumping. At least not yet (and for your context, maybe never). But I’d be happy if some worship musicians would just crack a smile.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that our worship leading is as much visual as it is audible. The music and words matter. But our expression does, too. A lot.

Ultimately, we need to genuinely show on the outside the passion for the Lord that we have on the inside. Whether that’s fist-pumping and jumping, or it’s just a simple sway and a smile. If it’s genuine, it will foster a deeper expression among the congregation.

So go ahead. I dare you to move…

7 Reasons Music Stands Suck (the Life Out of Your Worship), Part 2

7 Reasons Music Stands Suck (the Life Out of Your Worship), Part 2

By Jon Nicol   |  June 12, 2012

Yesterday, looked at the first three reasons music stands are killing are worship. We ended with the question: Are we really meaning to spoon our music stand while excluding God and congregation?

And the answer is No. It’s just that #4 is so true:

4. It’s too easy to look at.

It might be lack of confidence. It might just be ignorance to the fact that we’re doing it. But music stand is an easy, safe focal point for us. And just so you know, confidence monitors have the same affect – they’re even easier to get our zombie-gaze on.

Solution – memorize and go sans stand.

Partical solution – keep the stand low and to the side. Learn the your music well enough to only look down occasionally.

Also, practice looking up and out during rehearsals and warm-ups. If you* can’t do it there, what makes you think you can do it during the worship gathering?

5. It’s a crutch.

Because of reason #4, music stands become a crutch. We’re dependent on them. We feel like we need them.

But here’s the deal - most of the time, you know the song well enough to ignore the stand.

So try it. Go ahead and ignore that music stand like he’s the all-time ‘last pick’ at fourth grade dodgeball. Unlike us fat kids that that dreaded phys ed, your music stand will bear no emotional scars.

6. It screams, “I didn’t really have time to learn this song.”

The main reason it screams “I didn’t really have to time to learn this song” is because, well, you didn’t really have time to learn this song.

But let’s put this in perspective:
Imagine your teaching/preaching pastor has his head buried in the pulpit reading from his notes for the entire sermon. You’d find the dandruff of the person sitting in front of you more engaging than him.

So why do we musicians think we get a pass?

Solution: Turn off the NCIS reruns and practice your songs.

7. It’s keeping you from moving...especially forward.

The stand is both a visual and relational barrier. But it’s also a physical barrier. It doesn’t allow you to move...

...side-to-side. You’ve only got about a 120° angle you can work.

...backward. You can go only as far as the size of font allows.

...forward. Forget about it.

Moving forward toward the front of the platform can be the most powerful way to connect and engage those you are leading in worship.

But wait, you've got a music stand in front of you.

 

7 Reasons Why Your Music Stand Sucks (the Life Out of Your Worship), Part 1

7 Reasons Why Your Music Stand Sucks (the Life Out of Your Worship), Part 1

By Jon Nicol   |  June 11, 2012

Being on vacation this past week, I was able to be led by a different worship team. One thing has been bothering me about my own team, and I saw it clearly with this other team: music stands are killing our worship.

In fact, I want to go so far to say music stands are the bane of worshipful platform presence.

Here are seven reasons music stands suck the life out of our worship:*

1. It’s a visual barrier between you and those you’re leading.

Most musician's plant the stand firmly between themselves and the congregation they’re supposed to be leading. The higher the stand, the more it disconnects.

Solution: Memorize your music or use stage display/confidence monitors.

Partial solution: Push your stand low and move it to your side. This is fairly easy if you’re a vocalist or a non-singing instrumentalist. If you’re a singing instrumentalist tied to a boom stand, you might need to consider outright memorization.

2. You’re giving it more attention than you are the congregation.

and...

3. You’re giving it more attention than you are God.

Or at least it looks that way to the congregation.

Maybe for God, too. But I won’t speak for Him.

So besides the visual barrier between you and the congregation, now you have a relational barrier. You’re apparently enraptured by whatever that black piece of tilting steel is displaying.

Are we really meaning to spoon our music stand while excluding God and congregation?

No. It’s just that #4 is so true. But, unfortunately, you'll have to wait till tomorrow to find out what #4 is. As well as #5, #6 and #7.

Nine Truths To Empower The Worship Leader's Mindset, Part 2

Nine Truths To Empower The Worship Leader's Mindset, Part 2

By Rob Still   |  June 7, 2012

Today's article is a guest post from Rob Still, a worship leader, instructor and blogger in Nashville, TN. Rob packs a so much into this consice two-part post. I'm stoked to have this great content on WorshipTeamCoach.com.

Nine Truths To Empower The Worship Leader's Mindset, Part 1

Nine Truths To Empower The Worship Leader's Mindset, Part 1

By Rob Still   |  June 6, 2012

Today's article is a guest post from Rob Still, a worship leader, instructor and blogger in Nashville, TN. Rob packs a so much into this consice two-part post. I'm stoked to have this great content on WorshipTeamCoach.com

What Happens When I Damage My Voice?

What Happens When I Damage My Voice?

By Sheri Gould   |  June 5, 2012

This is the second in a two-part series about vocal health by Sheri Gould.

In part one we looked at some basic ways to prevent vocal problems. In this section we’ll look at what to do once you think you’ve hurt your voice.

Temporary Damage
There are different levels of damage that can be done to the vocal cords. Most of the time, the kind of damage we do might be very temporary. For example:

  • we’ve stayed up very late talking into the night.
  • we over-sang this week because we were getting ready for a big production and attended five rehearsals—about four more than we’re used to.
  • we attended a wedding and spent four hours at a reception trying to yell over the band.

All of these types of activities can produce the same general results. Sore and swollen cords.

When you wake up in the morning, your normally soprano or tenor voice sounds much like a froggy bass. If you ARE a bass you’re thrilled that you can FINALLY hit that low ‘C’!

This is a temporary, albeit troublesome, problem. There are some helpful things to do. The first thing your cords need is to REST. My guess is though—you can’t let them! It’s Sunday morning and you have to sing!

So here’s what you’re going to do. The minute you realize you’ve strained your cords, start to do everything you know to do:

  • Get as much sleep as you can.
  • Drink a bunch of water. 
  • Turn on your vaporizer. 
  • Don’t talk.

What else?
When you get up on the morning you HAVE to use your voice, take as hot of a shower as you can and keep the bathroom door closed and don’t use a n exhaust fan! Create a steam bath. Breath in deeply through you r nose.

After you’ve been breathing in this yummy moist air for about ten minutes, start to S-L-O-W-L-Y go through a very gently warm-up consisting mostly of gentle humming. Don’t push. Don’t look to get to the ends of your range, in fact avoid the ends of your range as much as possible when your cords are hurting. Sing quietly once you do start to practice.

More Stuff That Helps…and Hurts

Throat Coat.
Keep some Throat Coat by Traditional Medicinals handy at all times. You can always find it at GNC but my grocery store carries it as well.

When you use the Throat Coat, don’t be in a hurry to make it. Let it steep for as long as possible. I even make mine at night before I go to bed, wake up in the morning and re-heat it. Using boiling water and cover your cup to let it steep for a minimum of a half an hour to get the max benefits from the herbs. Make a double dose and bring it with you in your thermal coffee cup to sip on throughout the morning.

Throat Lozenges
Also, look for menthol-free throat lozenges. Hall’s Fruit Breezers are one example. The menthol will dry out your cords-it helps clear your sinuses but is not good for your cords.

Lemon
The same is true for lemon. Lemon might give you an immediate lift of ‘shrinking ‘ the cords back closer to their normal size, but the cost is having them dried out—so use it sparingly—if at all.

Honey
Honey is great because it soothes and coats the cords.

Saving Your Voice During Rehearsal
Once you start to rehearse with your team or choir, try the best you can to sing in a light, airy tone. This will help you go through the parts you need to without straining the cords as much. When you add air to your tone, yours cords don’t experience as much friction so its easier on them-of course you don’t sound as good but save that for the time you really need it. Sing as little as possible then go back to total rest for your cords.

You Really Are Sick (No Really)
If your problem is that you are actually sick, (for example you really have a sore throat from a virus) then the remedy would be very much the same if you have the need to sing immediately.

In addition, gargle with Listerine 3-4 times a day for 30 seconds. Do this at the onset of ANY kind of sore throat and you may void it completely. I’ve had GREAT luck with this. Others recommend gargling with salt water, but I particularly find this more effective. See what works best for you.

The BEST Thing
If your cords or your throat is sore and you can avoid singing or using your voice altogether, that is the best thing. Total vocal rest is the best as soon as possible. If you continue to sing when your cords are hurting or damaged in any way over time you may develop more serious vocal issues.

More Serious Damage

What do you do if you’ve truly damaged your cords? First of all, you need to determine how serious your damage is. This can be done with a visit to your Ear, Nose and Throat doctor.

Some clues that you may need to see a doctor would be:

  • constant hoarseness
  • constant phlegm
  • a gravelly sound in your speaking voice that doesn’t go away
  • pain in your throat when you talk or even swallow that doesn’t go away.

Any of these symptoms can indicate something seriously wrong.

Nodes
One of the singer’s worst nightmares used to be the dreaded nodes or polyps. Although these are still scary and need immediate attention, they are no longer the threat they once were.

I am not a doctor, but my understanding is that a node is almost like a ‘callous’ that develops over a period of time when the cords have been ‘banged’ together too harshly over an extended period of time.

Many popular singers have been treated for nodes and recovered nicely. However, usually there needs to be some re-training before the singer is allowed to sing again. Misuse and perhaps a simple lack of vocal knowledge and care many times are the contributing factors.

Not all polyps or nodes require surgery. If they are small enough, they can sometimes be treated with a more conservative approach. One of the most important things you can do is get proper vocal training, perhaps even speech therapy to see if that is where your true problem lies.

What You DON'T Want to Hear
TOTAL VOCAL REST is necessary. This means no talking, whispering, singing, coughing, sneezing, throat clearing, ANYTHING that makes a noise from your throat! But do not try to self-treat if you have the above mentioned symptoms. Go to a doctor ASAP!

As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Your voice is a gift from God and needs to be cared for properly. Take the necessary steps to care for your voice in a way that will make it possible to use your voice for God’s glory for as long as possible!

 

Four Steps to Care for Your Voice

Four Steps to Care for Your Voice

By Sheri Gould   |  June 4, 2012

I've attended worship seminars for years. I think Sheri Gould's been at half of those. But I never went to her seminars. Why?

She teaches voice.

I lead worship with a guitar and just happen to sing as a part of that. I get by alright, thankyouverymuch.

But the real truth is I didn't really want to know what I didn't know.

This year's trip to Christian Musician's Summit in NY changed that. I decided ignorance was no longer a valid MO for this worship leader. I attended three of her seminars at CMS. In the first one, I was as far back as possible. By the third, I was in the front row.

I contacted Sheri following CMS and asked her if I could republish some of her articles on WorshipTeamCoach for you to read. She graciously sent me a two part series on vocal health

In the first part today, Sheri talks about preventative care. Tomorrow, she'll be talking about remedial care. Here's Sheri...

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 7

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 7

By Jon Nicol   |  May 30, 2012

Deadly Sin #10: More ME

Without ever stepping foot in your church (or movie theater, or elementary school cafeteria—or wherever you meet), I can tell you how your Sunday worship sound check goes:

The keyboard player can’t hear herself over the drums, so she turns her amp up.

The electric guitarist just isn’t “relating” to his sound, so he follows suit and cranks his Boogie.

The bass player feels like he might be a little low in the mix, so he ups his thump.

The acoustic guitarist is now completely buried, so he asks to be turned up in the wedge.

The alto can’t hear herself. “Can I get a little more of my voice in the monitor?” she asks the sound tech. Knowing what’s coming, he reluctantly consents.

In a few moments, all the worship leader hears is alto. And asks for his voice up. The tech does his knob-twisting duty. He’s the worship leader, after all.

Within moments, the soprano has her left index finger in her ear and a rather displeased look on her face. The sound guy thinks to himself, “Here it comes…” And it does. So up her voice goes.

The drummer, meanwhile, feels the energy from all these additional dBs and assumes it to be the Holy Spirit telling him to play louder. He follows and obeys.

The keyboard player can’t hear herself over the drums, so she turns her amp up…

About right?

Names and instruments might differ, but this is the sin of “More ME!” at work.

And as you can see, it’s self-perpetuating.

As we continually to ask for more of ourselves in the monitors, we inadvertently:

  1. Create a volume war between onstage amps, monitor wedges and the drums.
  2. Ruin the house sound because of all the monitor bleed.
  3. Fail to listen to each other, causing the “6 people playing the same song on the same stage in the same key at nearly the same time” phenomenon.
  4. Dishonor each other’s gifts, talents and skills – including the sound engineer.

What are some ways to repent and renounce this sin of “more me”? Here’s a laundry list of suggestions. These range from quick fixes to expensive solutions. Do what you can with what you have.

1. Do a reverse, “house-only” sound check.

Cost? Painful, but free.

2. Guitarists/Bassists/Keyboardists, get rid of stage amplifiers.

Guitarists/Bassists. Move to an amp modeler like a Line 6 POD or a SansAmp.

This cuts down on the stage volume to allow others to hear better. But now how do you hear yourself? Here's a cheap solution: run one ear bud out of the headphone jack of the POD. You’ll want to get a volume control to keep it from blowing your ear drum.

Cost: $200 – $500 for the modelor. 8 bucks for the volume control.*

Keyboard players, if it doesn’t cut your “out” signal, do the same as guitarists with an amp modeler: run one earbud out the phone jack on your keyboard. Again, you’ll want the volume control.

Cost: $20 to $200, depending on what kind of buds you buy.

3. Invest in a personal monitor system. (Google Aviom, Elite Core PM-16, MyMix, etc), With this and some decent buds, you can forget wedges altogether.

Cost: $4000 – 6000. (If that's too much to swallow, check out the "poor-man" Aviom solution I used at a former church)

4. Put cans on the drummer. Run the drummer’s monitor through a headphone amplifier instead of a wedge. Often times, you have more aux channels than monitor amps. So use one of those open aux channels to give your drummer his own mix. 

If you can’t afford good in-ears for him, nobody really minds when the drummer has the Princess Lea Cinnamon Rolls on the sides of his head. He’s probably barefoot and wearing plaid shorts with a Hawaiian shirt anyway. A couple cans on the side of his head won’t distract anymore than that.

Cost: $50 – 500 – depending on the headphone amplifier and in-ears/headphones.

Remember, every wedge you can physically remove will help ebb the escalation of volume and reduce the sound clutter on your stage.

5. Use electronic drums. Sometimes that’s the best you can do for your room and your budget.

Cost: $800 – 2500

If you abhor electronic drums as much as I (and every drummer in the known universe) do, then here are two other options: 

6. Play to the room. This is free, but sometimes the room is just too small for anything but jazz tapping. Jazz tapping is great for, well, jazz. For modern worship, bleck

7. Use a drum shield. Here’s the deal with Plexiglas shields - they give the illusion of helping control the sound. But usually it just bounces it to another part of the room. To really control the sound you need a fully enclosed shield with sound absorption. This also means you need to mic the drums.

Cost: with the drum miking, you’re now into it for around $3000.

Maybe jazz tapping isn’t so bad?

8. Remove and reduce. When someone ask for "more me" in the wedge, sound tech, please learn to ask this question. I call it the Socratic Sound-Guy Method:

“What can I take out or turn down in of your monitor?”

If you can't hear yourself in the wedge, it's not usually because you're too low. It's an overcrowded mix. As mentioned in the “reverse sound check” article linked above, Kent Morris says that we should only put in our monitors what “keeps us in time and on pitch.” See that post for more on this.

Cost: the Socratic Sound-Guy Method is free, but it may cost you some dirty looks and snarky comments.

So there's a few suggestions. But I'm sure are other great suggestions. Let us know in the commments section:

What do you do in your situation to help curb the sin of MORE ME?

10,000 Reasons

10,000 Reasons

By Jon Nicol   |  May 25, 2012

Just a quick update - the $5 price is no longer available, but it's listed currently (June 4, 2012 for only 5.99. Still not a bad deal...

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 6

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 6

By Jon Nicol   |  May 24, 2012

How to kill the zombies on your worship team...

No More Moose Tracks Worship

No More Moose Tracks Worship

By Jon Nicol   |  May 23, 2012

I had an amazing evening last night. I drove down to High Street in Columbus, OH and sat in a ramshackle (but in the process of being renovated) old theater in the Short North to listen to Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Non-Conformity and The $100 Start-Up.* Chris was there as part of 50 state book tour promoting The $100 Start-Up.

So Chris was good, good enough for me to put his new book on my to-read list. And there was an amazing crowd of creatives there last night.

The couple who hosted it, Jen and Omar, do amazing work creating quirky stuff – and make a living from it.

I also met Todd Henry, the brilliant mind behind The Accidental Creative* (another book on my list and a current podcast subscribe on my Downcast). I recently discovered his background was actually in church work – so his book is being bumped up on my list. Might even go on vacation with me in two weeks.

But I have to tell you about an “almost meet” that nudged this evening from great to spectacular. After milling and talking with people after the event, I circled back around to reconnect with a friend. He mentioned that he had just met Jeni of Jeni’s Ice Cream.

Everyone around him knew what he was talking about except me. I risked dufas-ness by asking. But it had to do ice cream. I was willing to look stupid:

“What’s Jeni’s Ice Cream?”

Rather than tell, my friend showed. We drove just down the street to Jeni’s shop in the Short North - one of several around the Columbus area (and now trickling to other places in the state and country).

It was a Tuesday night around 9, and there was a line out the door. I gazed through the window at some of the flavors:

Bankok Peanut
Cherry Lambic
Pistachio and Honey
Brown Butter Almond Brittle
Salty Carmel
Queen City Cayenne
Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet
Whiskey & Pecan

And those are just the everyday flavors. Not the specials.

I’m the guy who always second-guesses my choice off the menu. But my friend put my mind at ease when he said, “They let you sample.”

Giddy up.

I tried the Pistachio & Honey and the Brown Butter Almond Brittle. I was going to sample more, but I couldn’t get past what those two tiny spoons had just delivered. And then I was faced with deciding between the two.

It’s a good thing that there was a high counter between the scoop-girl and me. Because when she said, “You can get two flavors in a small,” I was tempted to bear hug her while spinning in circles. That would have been awkward, even for the Short North.

I’d like to say I ordered the small because I didn’t want to ruin my latest Russian Kettlebell workout. But really, it’s because I’m cheap. A small was over $4.

And Jeni’s small isn’t small by the standards of a Wendy’s small soft drink. I mean SMALL. Imagine those white 10oz Styrofoam cups (you know, the ones that only churches buy for coffee anymore). Then shorten it halfway. Bearhug-girl packed two racquetball size scoops of ice cream in this Sam’s Club sample-size cup, weighed it, and handed it across the counter.

I was in this for the adventure, so I decided not to make a snarky remark about the size. Plus my friend paid. Snarkiness averted.

We sat down at a long table with people we didn’t know, and for the next 15 minutes, I had a religious experience.

Rarely do I savor like this. But every bite of the Pistachio & Honey was the first bite. And partway down that tiny cup, I received the blessing of Brown Butter Almond Brittle.

I nearly wept.

Had there been more in front of me I'm sure I would've partaken, but regretted it. What I had was just enough. It was so rich and full of flavor that overeating it would have been the worst kind of waste.

Still in Jeni-euphoria, my hour-long drive home required no music or podcasts. I started asking myself, “What if we did worship in our churches like Jeni does ice cream?”

When the scoop-girl handed me the sample of Pistachio & Honey, she told me where the pistachios came from and that the honey was from a farm in Ashland, Ohio (near where I live). This flavor had a story. It wasn’t mass produced in New Jersey and packaged for the masses. It was handmade for those who are part of Jeni’s tribe.

What if our worship was more like that?

What if our worship cost $12 a pint like Jeni’s ice cream? What if it cost us leaders more to make, and it cost worshipers more to engage? Even to point that some would go down the street to the less expensive alternative.

What if we created something richer and more substantial than the standard worship-pop, six-song set. Could less fill us up and let us exit satisfied, yet leave us longing for our next visit?

What if we stopped programming vanilla-safe and candy-laden Moose Track services for the masses – chasing trends and trying to reach standards of performance that we can’t hope to achieve?

What if, instead, we designed unique worship gatherings hand-made for our tribe, and for those who may join us from our local community?

What if we stopped putting green food coloring into our pistachio ice cream? What would our worship look like if it were authentically colored by what's inside us?

Maybe comparing our worship to an ice cream shop is sacrilege. Maybe I’m making more out of an ice cream experience than I should.

But what would happen if we made worship like Jeni makes ice cream?

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 5

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 5

By Jon Nicol   |  May 22, 2012

Read part 1
Read part 2
Read part 3

Read part 4

When it comes to the last five deadly sins we’ve discussed, they all contributed directly to the first transgression: creating a blob of sound.

The next two sins deal more with preparation and skill development.

#7 – Practicing at Rehearsals (and Re-Rehearsing at Sound-Checks)

If you’ve been hanging around me for any length of time, you’ve probably heard me say, “practice is personal, rehearsal is relational.”

Practice involves learning a song:

  • learning your part
  • creating a part
  • getting intimate with the form

This all needs to be done on your time. If you fail to practice your stuff and then come to rehearsal expecting to learn it, you’ll now be taking from my time, and the rest of the team’s time.

I can’t tell you how guilty of this sin I’ve been over the years. I’ve naturally got a “wing it” personality and a decent ability on guitar. That’s a bad combination. Too often I’ve come into rehearsal and not known my stuff.

And for leaders, our stuff is not just the part we’re singing or playing on our instrument. Our's is also the leadership and planning we bring to the service. When we don’t “practice” that, we end up robbing our volunteer’s time.

This is big reason why it feels like the team re-rehearses everything on Sunday morning. When an individual on the team spends the rehearsal trying to learn her part, she’s not engaged in the process of creating and rehearsing the whole song and the flow of the whole set. So then Sunday morning warm-up becomes a re-hashing of all the changes, segues, dynamics, etc. that the team worked on in rehearsal.

If you want to dig deeper into curbing this sin, read the series I wrote for WorshipMinistry.com, Quit Practicing At Rehearsals. You can also listen/watch an on-demand webinar I taught called “Creating a Culture of Preparation.”

The next sin relates to practice, too.

#8 – Pulling From a Stale Bag of Tricks

Our personal practice doesn’t just involve learning the songs for Sunday. I need to be investing in my instrument and growing as a musician.

A great way to keep fresh is to learn your instrument’s part from the original recording. Even if you aren’t following that arrangement exactly, the exposure to a different style/approach can open up a new world of playing for you.

One of the biggest kick in the pants for me as a lead guitar player was having some young students on the youth team just explode in their ability on guitar. They’d come in having learned new riffs and lead parts to songs that put my “old standbys” to shame. It motivated me to sharpen the tools in my box.

Most of my team is NOT made up of 15 year olds with plenty of discretionary time. They’re busy people with families and jobs who are not going to woodshed every day to hone their chops. So I’ve challenged my team (and myself) to think monthly and yearly when it comes to ongoing skill development.

I encourage them to choose one thing to further their musicianship each month: watch a video, practice a certain skill, do a “one-off” lesson with a private instructor, etc.

Then once a year, I ask my team to attend some sort of training event like Christian Musician Summit. That’s a tall order for volunteers - both in cost and time off work. So I’ll also look for more local events and promote them. When those are plentiful, I’ll schedule my own instrument-specific training events for my team.

And even though I go into other churches and do training, I always try to bring in outside voices, even if it’s just a DVD.

My team hears me enough.

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 4

11 Deadly Sins of the Worship Team, Part 4

By Jon Nicol   |  May 21, 2012

Read part 1
Read part 2
Read part 3

The next two deadly sins have to do with dynamics:

#5 -  Set it and forget it. Failing to use dynamics
A worship team will set the volume/intensity at the front end, and there it stays—for the rest of the song (and often the rest of the service).

Dynamics matter. Like the arch in a great story, dynamics allows us to build up, create tension, climax, then resolve. This helps move the worshipers along in the song. It also gives them a needed break from a constant wall of sound.

Here are four reasons teams fail to use dynamics:

  1. Ignorance. They just don’t realize it. This is usually the mark of an immature team of musicians being led by an immature leader. But the good news is, this the easiest reason to rectify.
  2. We’re just trying to survive. The team is too busy trying to play/sing the right chords/notes.
  3. We're playing the chart, not the song (see #4)
  4. Overplaying/Oversinging. (see #2) Dynamics aren’t just achieved by volume, but with space. I.e. instruments and voices need to give room

Here are a few ways to reverse this sin: 

Listen to recordings of the song. Mark dynamics. Pay attention to HOW the musicians on the recording achieved those dynamics. When they got softer, did they “just” get quieter? Or less? Or not at all? How about during the bigger sections – what makes it bigger?

Choose one song a week to memorize with your team. Since they now know the chords and notes and form (make sure they memorize the form), you can work on dynamics without sweating the basics. This practice will start trickling to other songs, at least we hope so.

Arrange. Plan specifically when and which instruments and voice should come in and drop out. When will the vocalists being singing off mic, parts, unison? How much and in what range should the instruments be playing?

This is basic arranging, and you can do it. It’s legal in your state. I checked.

Let's move on to the second of the two dynamic-related sins:

#6 Achieving Big with Fast
With this sin, the band doesn’t fail to use dynamics. But they manufacture them the wrong way. We use “fast” to achieve “big.”

There are two ways we do this:
First, when a song needs to build, the band unwittingly increases their speed. Big = fast. And the inverse is also true. When a song hits a quiet section, like breakdown or a quieter verse, the band will start dragging as they hold back their volme and intensity.

Secondly, we speed up a song in an attempt to recreate the energy of a well-arranged recording. I’ve talked about this in a recent post: Three Ways to Stop Confusing Tempo and Feel and in a series I wrote for WorshipMinistry.com - Developing a Solid Sense of Time.

To overcome the sin of equating Big with Fast, the only long-term solution is learning to play in time. Developing a Solid Sense of Time series has some ideas to help you do that.

One last word about dynamics. I think we in the church are often afraid of manipulating emotions to achieve the appearance of expressive worship.

And yes, we do want to make sure that we don’t manipulate emotions. But dynamics are about bringing beauty and feeling to a song. That’s created in part by contrast. Imagine a Rembrandt painting or Ansel Adams photograph without contrast. Our music needs contrast to be beautiful.

And if we create genuine beauty – art – it points back to the Original Artist and Source of all true beauty. Does it effect our emotions? You bet it does. But the last time I check, we’re called to worship him with our heart, soul, mind & strength. I think that list covers emotions.

Will there be people who only experience emotions in our services because of the music? Sure. But for those who are truly seeking God in spirit and in truth, the emotions evoked by the music simply serve as a reinforcement of what they are already feeling toward God.

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