This year is the first year that I have been a worship leader for over half of my life. Each life experience has taught me a lot, on and off stage, and as I think about all of the leaders God is raising up in the next generation, I have three words of advice I would give to the former me if I could.
Maybe you’re familiar with the tension of the squeaky wheels versus the quiet wheels. (The squeaky ones get the grease—that is, most of the attention)
I define the tension like this: the quiet wheels are your key, reliable volunteers. They show up on time and don’t get offended very often. They help your weekend services happen, and they don’t need a ton of acknowledgment of their awesomeness.
The squeaky wheels, however, often have last minute interruptions to their serving schedule, don’t get along with some of the other teammates, and often want to have conversations about negative things they see in the ranks.
What would you like to change about your worship team?
- Maybe they don't practice enough.
- Or they stare at the music stands the whole time.
- Are there attitude issues you're dealing with?
- Maybe you need more musicians.
- Or you need the ones you have to step up their game a little.
- Or maybe it's not your team that needs the most work, but your congregation—if you could only get them to sing and engage more.
Here's the thing, leading your church and worship team through change would be super easy...
Giving voice to where your congregation is really at...
Being an Ohio native, many summers in my childhood included at least one trip to Cedar Point, the theme park in Sandusky on Lake Erie.
I remember when I wasn't quite tall enough to ride the "big kid" rides. Of course, when you're just shy of that threshold height, there's going to be a few tears when you see your older sibling hopping in line for a ride that you just missed the cut for.
In those moments, everything is HUGE. Walking up to the college kid in the bright polo holding the measuring stick, the measuring stick seems huge. Everyone in line towers over you. Dwarfing them all in the distance, the first monstrous drop of the roller coaster hill.
You ever feel like your audio engineer has no idea what you’re talking about? Chances are, your audio engineer feels the same about you from time to time. That happens a lot when we mix-up definitions of often-used audio terms. It’s pretty inconceivable. (Yes…I had to make the Princess Bride joke. You’re welcome.)
Here are six terms (grouped in sets) that we get crisscrossed:
How does this song go again?
Do you hate that question during rehearsal as much as I do?
You planned the setlist three weeks ago. You uploaded the charts and mp3s to the worship planning app. You wrote out the band and vocal notes outlining who plays what where. And you’ve said time and again, “Show up prepared for rehearsal.”
And then at rehearsal someone asks: “How does this song go again?”
He might not ask it audibly, but he doesn’t need to. The look in his eyes as he fright-reads the chart tells it all: he didn’t practice.
One of the most important leadership lessons I learned a while back is this: culture trumps everything. The culture of your worship team determines their behavior. I realized I had a culture that didn’t value preparation. So, I set out to change it.
When Sunday is always coming, it can be easy to get tunnel vision.
A lot of churches have systems in place to make sure their staff worship leaders get time off to rest and refocus. However, I would venture to say that most churches don't. Here are some practical tips and activities to give you that much-needed breather.
Sometimes, it is nearly impossible to go to another church for a night of worship or even to a show at a bar when you're a worship leader without mentally breaking down every little piece of it.
That floor tom sounds like junk.
I can tell that lady is lip-syncing.
That worship leader has better hair than me.
You NEED to find some artistic/musical performance that will at least make it difficult for you to put on your "expert" goggles.
In part one, we talked about what habits are and why they matter (good and bad) to your team. You'll want to read part one if you haven't already.
Let's dive into the step-by-step process for leading your team towards healthy habits.
Too often we have an idea that some bad habit needs to change, but we don’t take the time to articulate exactly WHAT that change looks like, HOW we’re going to get there, and WHY it matters that we change.
The HOW and WHY are crucial. Too many leaders stop at the WHAT—they tell people what the vision is, and then expect them to get on board.
But people are so much more willing to go along with change if they understand why they need to make the change and how it’s going to come about. So make sure that BEFORE you go public to your team, you’re crystal clear on the What, the How, and the Why.
That word for the longest time had only a negative connotation for me. I’m not naturally wired to crave routine, focus on details, or have any discernible self-discipline whatsoever.
Whether I was being chewed out by my mom for my “habit” of leaving the kitchen cupboard doors open after looking for a snack or chiding myself for not having better study habits in college (the last minute and I were very, very well acquainted), all my habits seemed bad.
I don’t know if there is a single, more irritating critique to a worship leader or audio engineer than the “too loud” comment.
It’s just too loud.
Why does it have to be so loud?
It hurts my ears!
Do you think God can’t hear us or something?
Now, here’s the problem with loud complaints. There is no universal standard for loud.
Let me give you a personal example…
Fact: 100% of leaders mess up.
Even the most seasoned, exemplary influencer still says and does things that fall short of perfect.
As a Christ-quoting leader in ministry, I don’t take my trip-ups lightly; in fact, I tend to feel embarrassed, discouraged, and down on myself when I realize I haven’t been practicing what I preach in some area. But I’m learning that messing up can actually give me helpful feedback and spur my leadership skills.
So, since we’re all in this boat together, let’s talk about how we can make the most of our failures.* Here are three tips for turning our common failures into catalysts for growth:
Note: I posted a shorter version of this to a couple of Facebook groups I run and found it struck a nerve. So I thought I’d expand on this topic here in the blog. Enjoy it or hate it. And please comment either way.
Several years ago, I was between churches and offered to do some “pulpit fill” in some churches brave (or desperate) enough to hire an out-of-work worship leader to preach.
At one church I preached at, they just had a guitarist, drum machine, and six to eight vocalists.
From the pick-up note of the first song to the final rubato whole note of the last song, every singer sang every...single...one...of...those...notes.
And it was not a short set.
After I finished preaching and was driving home, I thought about why that musical worship experience made me want to curl up in the fetal position under the pew with my hands over my ears.
Let’s face it, worship leaders, it’s our Super Bowl. Easter Sunday is THE "big game" for many of us.
But with so much preparation and so many moving parts, sometimes you can feel more like the tackling dummy than the starting quarterback.
So as we count down the last three and a half weeks before Easter, let me give you seven ways to get through this season with at least a smidgeon of your sanity remaining.
In today's episode, we talk about what worship leaders can do better as they lead their vocalists.
OK, I can’t NOT tell you this story that happened just this past Sunday. Here it is:
We often use the last five minutes of our pre-service time to play a new song that’s about to be introduced into the rotation.
(It’s more for the band to get comfortable with the song than the congregation. Let’s face it, most of the congregation won't arrive for another 15 minutes anyway.)
As the second service was about to begin, my three-year-old daughter, Cora, came into the auditorium.
She had been playing out with her older siblings and their friends while my wife manned a women’s ministry event sign-up between services. But she must’ve seen me on stage and decided to check it out. So she found a seat about six rows back from the front and sat down.
What is one thing that sets apart many spiritual leaders from the GREAT spiritual leaders? Their prayer life.
Prayer is one of the biggest privileges we have as team leaders—and one of the biggest necessities.
The apostle Paul’s leadership of the early churches he oversaw included consistent, positive, and bold prayers for them:
- He wrote to the Romans that he unceasingly made mention of them in his prayers. (Romans 1:9-10)
- He told the Ephesians and Philippians that he never stopped thanking God for them. (Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:3-4)
- Informed the Colossians (in what might be my favorite of Paul’s introductions) that he's praying:
“… [they] may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
Seeing the priority Paul placed on prayer and intercession as an example, let’s fight the tyranny of the urgent that so often tempts us to attack our to-do list before we lift up prayers for the teams we lead.
Wait, what key is this song in?
Umm…I lost my place in the bridge. Well, and in the instrumental. And in the second chorus, too.
Can we listen to this song before running it again?
What do you mean I’m not playing my part? I’m playing the chords written on the chart!
Those are all questions and comments that you’ve probably heard at rehearsal. And they pretty much signify that people haven’t practiced.
How to intentionally help your church to be more expressive in worship...
There’s a well-known list (as well as a super creepy 90’s movie) known as the “seven deadly sins.” I don’t know just how biblical it is to call just seven sins deadly, but Jealousy definitely deserves to be on that list.
Have you seen jealousy sneak into a team before? Have you ever had to fight it in your own heart? Here are some serious reasons why it’s detrimental for a worship community.
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In today's podcast, I talk to you about the 10 tools (apps and such) that I love, and that make ministry easier/better.
Ever had a rehearsal tank?
I won’t bore you with the story right now. Just suffice it to say that most anything that could go wrong did. (Except an earthquake. I can thankfully say we didn't have a massive earthquake at that rehearsal.)
Doing a post-mortem on that rehearsal, and others like it, I can point to several factors that made things go sideways. But inevitably, I find that often it’s what didn’t happen BEFORE the rehearsal that contributed to the mess.
I’ve learned that four pre-rehearsal habits can make a big difference. They can redeem a sub-par rehearsal from completely tanking. And they can also elevate a good rehearsal into a great one.
Why your announcements are sucking the life out of your worship service (and what to do about it)...
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only recovering workaholic in ministry. The fact that you clicked on this title probably means you're wrestling with this issue. But if you're not, remember: denial is one of the symptoms. :)
Having a willing-to-serve personality is mostly a huge blessing, but now and then it makes it harder for me, and all of my servant-leader brothers and sisters, to keep a healthy balance of life’s activities.
In ministry, there’s no end to the list of people's needs. And it’s such a righteous cause, that it almost feels godly to be slightly workaholic - you know, skip some date nights and Sabbaths - all for the Gospel of course.
But I’ve been thinking about this question lately: Where is my "number one" ministry?
A few months ago, I wrote a blog post called, "Why I Fell Off The Planet." It explained my almost complete disappearance from the blog and podcast for a couple months due to stringing too many “sprints” back-to-back without enough rest.
Well, I’ve done it again. Disappeared, that is. And I was sprinting, but this time it had an end in site. So why did I disappear for about month and to what end?
Practical steps to follow Romans 12:18, "...live at peace with everyone."
We talk to Tim Foot about the hiring process for churches and worship leaders.
A reason why people stop singing in your church...
The building blocks for an equipped leadership team...