From the first note to the last, what is played musically in church matters. Music is one of the historically prominent and powerful vehicles for our Christian worship–today as well as in the past. Whether the worship is expressed on a Fender strat or sung by a choir in full robes the music matters. Like the beams of a building need competent engineering, the execution of our music leadership requires skill. You can compensate all you want with automated loops, tracks and auto-tuning but in the end polished bronze is still bronze. Gold is the real thing. Just because something is shiny does not make it valuable or worthy in the long run. Is what we are offering as valuable as we think it is? Good musicianship and the several components that it contains matter.
At least two extremes exists when describing the role of the worship leader. Today, we ask for rockstar-monks to lead us in worship. I have heard an influential leader say repeatedly at conferences, “Your role is more important than mine as the preacher.” Really? This made me feel important at the moment, but reality says something else. As a worship leader we prepare people to hear the word, lead them in prayers, but how is that more important than leading and forming a congregation spiritually through preaching? As a worship leader, my role is surely significant as I serve the whole congregation and have a part in the spiritual formation, but not a superior part. I am simply just a part. And, to put that on me or any worship leader is to raise this role to monk status.
We want to be relevant with our worship music and need to have spiritually vibrant worship. A church itself is described by many leaders by the musical “ style” offered. There is traditional, gospel, contemporary, and modern as some words to describe just a few of the menu options. Music itself appears to how we brand our worship. If we brand worship as a music style what message does this send? I may have bad news for those who would be so pragmatic. We want something that works. Would we rather have something dumbed-down that we can control, or something that actually is culturally relevant, powerful, or engaging? In a discussion about styles of music in worship, we have to ask about the intent. Why do we want to be germane with our music? My point is clear. It’s complicated.
I will be periodically posting a series of essays this year: “How We Worship Matters: Essays on the Worship Battles We Should Fight.”
As human beings, we live in the physical world. Our spirituality is connected to this and there is nothing like the Incarnation to give us a picture of how this mystery exists. Jesus is fully God and fully human. What did Jesus display to us? Spirituality is housed in people, not in stone temples or in only one physical spot.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost only amplified this by entering the life of every believer on the planet. We can now pray in concert with people all over the world because of our connection with the Holy Spirit. Our worship is empowered, no matter at a mountain campground, warehouse turned house of worship, or country chapel.
We all need signs. Where am I? I love the arrows on maps that tell me exactly where I am and the context. Real life scares us because rarely are signs this clear. When it comes to faith, signs were sought by many of our Bible heroes. Whether I am praying and leaving out the fleece at night or putting my fingers into the holes in the hands of Christ, it is all the same. I need to see. Those that truly saw God like Isaiah wreathed in the fetal position. Honestly, I may ask for a sign, but may not want the real deal. If God truly shows up, it seems I might have to change as anyone is “undone” in his presence. This is the reason why Christ came as a baby. God knows we just can’t handle it.
There are just so many amazing technology advances today to aid the average church musician. You can get the original multitrack stems from the best recordings of modern worship music and do everything from rehearse with them, sweeten a live set with them, or fill an empty band spot with them. I applaud all of these and actually currently employ them in worship settings. However, how we lead our modern worship musician requires us to ask a couple questions. Are we dumbing-down our ability to lead by relying too much on tech and not enough on musical skill? Are we using musicians to fill a slot in a machine rather than inspiring them to create?
No matter the size of your church or worship team, you will have administrative tasks that require diligence. In my book, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader, I make the argument that the job of being a worship leader is beyond being in front of people as you lead them in music. You all know this. However, how do you deal with the details and still remain an artist? This where the hat of the administrator must either be worn, shared, or given away. It is the task who requires hidden work, yet visible results. Imagine if no one shows up for rehearsal. No one gets the calls or emails you make, but the consequences are obvious to all.
The biggest advice here is that administration is all about priorities. One does not get more organized by having a clean desk. We are successful when the right things are performed at the right time. Here are 5 tips to help you solve the dilemma of details for the worship leader.
Yes, you know you hate to love these top-five or top-ten lists. One fact I state clearly before I teach leaders and worship leaders is that I have made many mistakes over many years of leading music and worship. The list I below comes from such real-world experience. I know the ideas may not be news to many of you. But, having the basics articulated for both yourself as the leader and your team greatly improves your game. Also, teams need to have unity. Unity must be intentional, not randomly executed.
Here are five simple tips will massively produce better results if attended and followed. Why am I so sure? Well, did you not read in the above paragraphs about my many mess-ups? My pain is your gain!
I thought I would do a short list of lessons learned the hard way from the many years I have been a worship leader. As I often say in classes I teach, my hope is that the pain I endured from my experiences lightens yours with wisdom. So, here are some FAIL moments as a worship leader we all need to look out for and hope never happen.
I want to tell you a little story about what God does when you invest in people. Truly, when we believe in someone and give them courage to take a step it seems that step leads to more than we initially imagine. My life would not be the same if it were not for my parents, mentors, friends and others who encouraged me along the way.
I get asked a lot about keyboards in modern worship, as I have played in worship teams as well as been a worship leader for many years. So, I thought I’d give away some practices that have allowed me to succeed in that role. Whether you use a traditional keyboard like a Nord, Korg, or Yamaha or a soft synth from your laptop or iPad, these tips should apply. By the way, I have written a couple other posts specifically on the differences of using these: Modern Worship Keyboards: Laptop vs. Traditional Synth or Modern Worship Keyboards: My setup for loops, clicks, and keys with MainStage.
There are so many choices these days when addressing your keyboard needs for modern worship. Shell out say $3,000 for a synth by Nord, Yamaha, or Roland. Or, use your laptop and a controller like Axiom Pro or Studio Logic. I get a lot of questions about this topic, so I thought I would give you my thinking in hopes it aids in deciding for you the best option.
When an acoustic guitarist can spend $3,000 simply on a nice professional Taylor or Martin to lead worship with, the range in price is such that $500 might sound terrible while $5,000 terrific when you talk about wood, manufacturing, and the pickup electronics. I am here to say that you might feel less cool using a controller, but the geeky-ness of a laptop/iPad setup means for about $1,500 you can sound as good as a $3,300 workstation. If you already own a laptop, it might be less than that!