Friday, January 27, 2012

Lead us not into frustration, but deliver us into good praise and worship: Tips for worship teams

As the evangelists who came to our little church for “revivals” when I was a kid would always say, “Forgive me for I’m about to step on some toes. Hallelujah!

That was the standard warning preamble to a 10-15 minute diatribe against some sin of fashion, passion, or whatever. The revival trail sin dujour.

Skirts are too short. Pants are too tight. Movies are too racy. And the like. The “hallelujah” gave the impression that they enjoyed toe stompin’.

Me? I’m not fond of stepping on any body part and I’m not going to address sin issues. Instead, I’m going to offer some tips to worship leaders (aka song leaders) on how to create a better singing/worship experience on Sunday mornings and other times.

From years of experience

These tips emerge from decades of being in church, both as a member and a visitor, across a variety of denominations. And they all come from the perspective of a worshipee.

If you do an Internet search on, say, “how to be an effective worship leader,” the results will pull up dozens of articles addressing the spiritual side of the equation: Be prayed up and ‘fessed up, share Bible study and prayer times with your worship team, and the like.

There are also tips to tie the music into sermon themes, stay on good terms with the pastor, and practice, practice, practice.

These are all good things. Especially the practice part.

But there are other elements that tend to get overlooked. These are what I’m going to address. They are simple, practical, and essential tips.

They are not ordered according to any priority as they are each vital for an effective worship experience for the people you are leading.

TIP: Keep your eyes open.

Just as it’s okay to pray with your eyes open, it’s okay to worship with your eyes open. As a leader (or worship team participant), it’s an absolute must.

You cannot afford to get “lost” in worship since you are the one leading others. You need to be aware of what’s happening with the other musicians and what’s happening with the congregation.

If people suddenly get confused looks on their faces and their lips stop moving, it’s a good indication the words being projected for them to sing aren’t matching what’s coming out of your mouth. Or else you’ve just suffered a wardrobe malfunction.

The worship team also needs to pay attention to cues from the leader (you do have one leader don’t you?) to know when to repeat a verse, speed up, slow down, and end it.

TIP: Let us actually sing.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a congregant than when every song is new, unfamiliar, absurdly high or low, set to an odd rhythm, or otherwise unsingable.

I like to sing during the music/worship time but have been in situations where it was impossible. You may possess a wonderful voice that can range across multiple octaves, but as a worship team member, you need to reign it in.

Check with various members of the congregation from time to time to make sure you’re singing in keys, ranges, and rhythms they can match comfortably.

Oh, and singers on a worship team must actually be able to sing well, and those with instruments should know how to play them well.

TIP: Don’t perform.

It’s not about you, ever. Yes, it’s tempting when you’re really good on your instrument and in front of people to show off. But this is totally inappropriate when part of a worship team.

Play competently and be invisible. Dress modestly, keep the movement small, don’t launch into a loud solo riff, only point people’s attention to the One they are worshiping.

Avoid choosing songs because they let you feature your talent. Pick songs that enhance the topic of the message and that everyone can sing comfortably.

TIP: Let us know what to do.

Remember to provide simple instruction as you lead people in worship. Team members should know various signals regarding transitions, tempo changes, etc.

But we in the congregation need to be told when it’s appropriate to stand and sit, where to look for the words, when it’s time to pray or just listen.

Keep us clued into what’s next.

However, avoid being too directive about how we are to worship. You are leading not directing. Everyone has their own style of responding and that may not include jumping up and down, shouting out loud, etc. Don’t chide.

TIP: Teach us new songs.

When introducing a new song, take the time to teach it! Don’t just throw the words up on the screen and start singing. Announce that it’s a new song, have us listen as you sing it through once or twice, and make sure all the team members singing and playing are presenting the melody strong and clear. Add the fancy stuff later, but first give us a chance to learn the words and melody.

Oh, and always have your strongest singer singing the straight melody for every song so we can hear it and follow along easily.

Pick new songs that can easily be sung by a congregation. Not every popular Christian song being played on the radio makes for a good congregational worship song. And please only introduce one new song in a set. In fact, you may want to teach the song over multiple weeks.

TIP: Move from praise to worship.

Start with the faster, more upbeat songs – the praise songs. Then move to the slower, more contemplative songs – the worship songs. Praise songs bring us into the presence of God with joy. Worship songs focus us on His glory and set us up to sit down and hear the Word.

Avoid having your last song be a rousing, upbeat, raucous, whoop-up of a praise song! Sit people down in a quieter mood and state. Odds are they’ll be less fidgety and more attentive to the preaching. If you want to do a post-message song that’s upbeat, that’s okay.

TIP: Know who is really on your team

The worship team is not limited to the musicians on the platform. The people running the sound board, manning the projector, and others are also part of your team.

Make sure you thoroughly identify all of the players on the team and make sure they are all involved in your practice/rehearsal times as well as your fellowship/prayer/Bible study times.

Make sure those on the team who are not on the platform are fully aware of all your special signals regarding transitions and tempo changes.

And make sure you look at them in the sound/projector booth when they are frantically trying to get your attention because something’s out of whack.

If you have a guest musician participate, introduce them so we’re not wondering who they are and why they’re there.

TIP: Separate your practice/rehearsal time from your fellowshiping/praying/Bible study time.

Time is precious and the temptation will be to jam everything into one night during the week. You’ll get together for practice and end up spending two hours praying and sharing, then remember why you got together, and cram another two hours with practicing, and go home exhausted at midnight or later. This is not a good thing.

When you get together for practice, focus only on practicing. Make the time about song selection, getting the sound right, planning transitions, and all the other very important practical, technical, and procedural stuff. Open your time with a very short prayer and end it with a very short prayer.

Then, once a month or whenever, plan to get everyone together for fellowship, Bible study, prayer, sharing, and anything else except practice.

If you fail to discipline yourselves so that your practice/rehearsal times are truly about practicing, rehearsing, and prepping, you’ll never be fully ready to lead any worship time.

Forgive me if your toes are sore

Back in the church I grew up in, things were simpler. We had hymnals, someone to play the piano, and sometimes the organ. Other musicians came and went.

There were times when we’d get to church and the pastor would approach my dad, who was not a musician, and ask him to lead the song service. Dad didn’t say no. He pulled out a hymnal, selected four or five songs, handed the list to the musicians present, and oh, the times of praise and worship that would ensue!

There are many reasons why that worked then and why it won’t work now. For instance, most churches no longer have hymnals. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

Whether you are a worship team of one in a small church, or of dozens in a megachurch, do what you do both with excellence and “as unto the Lord.”

My tips are aimed to help with both sides of that equation from the perspective of one who sings from the pews.

We’re the ones you’re leading in worship. Don’t forget us as you “enter His courts with praise.” We’d like to be able to follow along.

Just for fun

In the first video, Mr. Bean visits a church where they could use a good worship leader. In the second, well, I’m not sure what happened.


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