I spent the morning today at Simpson University. This school has a passion to worship and a group of students committed to growing themselves and the student body. There is so much to learn about worship, but the technical stuff matters, too. So, for all you worship leaders, here is a post that might be a refresher or encouragement to you.
These are "re-digested" thoughts from a Q&A time with six student worship leaders at Simpson University this morning. (You guys were great!) It was a privilege to share with them some of the things I have learned—from leading worship in front of a church of under 50 people where the treasurer fell asleep in the front row while were singing to leading in front of thousands in a mega church. I thought I would share some of the conversation with the rest of you.
How has your theology or view of worship changed over the years? I used to be pretty stressed at first that I had to create worship in some way. Of course, the more I grew in theology the more I realized over the years that what we do on the weekend worship service is simply an expression of worship for my particular congregation. I don’t create worship, I facilitate the worship expression of a certain group of people. It is their job to worship all week and then come ready to express something corporately that hopefully matches what they do individually. That job is a lot less stressful. Of course, along with the pastor of my church, I am part of discipling our people to worship. But, it is still up to them.
What is the hardest part of leading worship for you? Dealing with the let-down afterwards.
I love everything about leading from planning, meeting people, rehearsing, picking songs and actually sharing this all with a congregation. What I find as the hardest thing to deal with is what to do afterwards to recharge my soul. Sure, I might have a day off, but do I burn it playing Xbox or do I go after higher things. (Xbox is OK, btw). Mainly, the struggle is to prepare myself for the fact that I am giving out and serving others. I am not receiving the ministry that I am giving out. It is not meant for me anyway. Even though I love God’s presence and see Him work in that room in me and in others it is still work and I need to recharge the soul.
How do you select songs? I look at the lyrics first. Meaning, I will not decide on a song without being sure of its theology and whether it seems like something our church should be saying together. Then, I look for rhythm, melody and singability.
How about a song that is good, but some lyrics don’t work…do you change those? No. That is the author’s work. This is why I try to look at lyric first. I hate going through the process of emotionally being attached to a song I can’t use. Of course, you can always attempt get the author’s permission to change a lyric or add something. If something is vague, you may simply need to give a context for the song before you sing it.
Do you write songs? Yes. I think that songs birthed from your prayer life for and with a congregation are a blessing.
100% Rule: Divide up the playing. Less is more. Musicians overplay and backing singers want to sing harmonies on every note. This makes the arrangement of the song too busy and often you will lose a sense of “groove.” Think of a pie. The more musicians, the smaller musical piece of pie each member of the group gets. What does it look like when there is more than 100%? It gets ugly when that lead player noodles all the time, when the keyboards muddy of the left-hand bass range and when the drummer gets happy with too many fills. It gets very distracting.
White space: Leave room for silence and simplicity in your worship set. That wall of sound is fun on the opening tune. People need to be roused and brought into the service. However, you will lose them if there is no variety in how much “texture” you apply to the song arrangement. Here are some ideas: a drum and a cappella section in an up tune; sing a verse with just guitar or keys; have a moment of soft music to mediate by or even silence.
How do you handle people who are better at their instrument than you are? That makes me happy. I love being able to not think about a part since that player is so good at it. Also, it is good to have collaboration and a better player can add ideas. As long as that person is not a primadonna, we are in good shape.
How do you communicate with your drummer when you are not a drummer? This is tough. You can play air drums and make noises and annoy them. They just don’t get what you want. I try to identify what kind of groove I want and might ask my drummer to listen to a few recordings to let him know the feel I am looking for. Otherwise, I might even play (even badly) the groove a bit since I am certainly not a drummer.
How much do you figure things out at rehearsal compared to preparing things ahead of time? I mostly like to know where I am going ahead of time. However, I always leave something opened to allow the team to collaborate on a song. This gives them some ownership and is what makes musicians enjoy the process. This is not always practical, but leaving something open and spontaneous is part of leaving a "God moment" spot. Not that I think God does not show up in the plan, but you need to plan for God to show up…its an act of faith. Even in leading worship I like to leave a spot where I know I have to figure something out in the moment.
How do you audition people for my worship teams? I used to have a 12-page document that included a music theory test and video taped the audition. Wow. Now, I simply have them fill out a testimony form and have them answer questions about their schedule. Then I have them sing or play for me a list of things: match pitches and harmonize for singers, play some scales and solo for player and I assess their tone, rhythm and presentation. After that initial meeting, I then invite them to come to a worship team practice where they can ask questions of the team and observe what we do. If they pass these steps, I invite them to sing or play once or twice on a real worship service. If, after prayer, they have the skill and heart and schedule, I invite them to join the team for six months.
How do you deal with chronically late musicians or those who show lack of commitment? I see a couple things that I try to get to the bottom of. First, I confront them and ask, “what’s going on?” Sometimes, I find out that there underlying are issues in their life like sin or simply pressures of life or a relational issue with more or other team member. This is an opportunity to walk with them a bit. The second thing is just that there might be a primadonna attitude going on. Letting your star players have this attitude can kill your team. If there is no response, I make the tough choice to remove the primadonna from the group for greater good and pray that they will grow from it. Simply, confronting in a biblical manner is necessary. Discipleship will be part of what a worship leader has to do.
How about non-Christian’s playing music in church? I am open to this. I don’t do this much, but as long as your team is in prayer and all parties know that this is not a leader but a player I would do it. I personally know musicians who found Christ this way. We need to be evangelistic. Any ideas on how to reach musicians?
What do you do when you need to schedule a rehearsal and any choice leaves someone left out? (I think I got the question right) It happens, no matter what you do, your scheduling will lead to excluding someone on your team, If you have one team, this is more likely. I go for using a rotation of people, no matter how small the setting. This way, you minimize the odds of scheduling conflicts. On the other hand, it may be that a non-traditional time should be considered. For instance, a Saturday morning or a Sunday evening might be an option rather than a weeknight. Think outside the box and get input from your team.
More on using a rotation… I have found that this is always a benefit. Not only does this help with scheduling, it allows your team to worship with the spouses and family and gives them a worship experience away from the platform. For myself, I try to allow others to take my slot as leader so I can also rotate in and out. Worship leaders need the perspective of being in the pew.
This is most of what went on. (Hey Simpson guys, let me know if I left something out or leave some new questions, etc.)
Here are a couple resources I mentioned this morning: