How to Love Your Critics

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By Amanda Furbeck

Do you have critics? If you’ve spent any amount of time in ministry, you’ve probably got a few. For those of us who are people-pleasing type worship leaders, managing, or better yet, loving, those who are critical of you or your work can be a daunting task. You want to make them happy; you want them to love you; you want them to love the worship music. And it hurts when they don’t. But having critics isn’t all bad if you know what to learn from them and how to love them in return.

Listen. Sometimes, people just need to be heard. If you find someone constantly criticizing you, ask yourself: Do they just want me to hear them? They might just be in need of a listening ear. Make an appointment, take them out for coffee, or stick around after church and give them a non-judgmental ear and your undivided attention. Listen closely to their heart, not just their words. Don’t get defensive, but after they have said everything they need to, you might be able to gently share your point of view, if appropriate. And they might be more willing to listen if they feel they’ve been heard and understood. Critics who just need to be heard often become your biggest defender if they feel valued and understood.

Look for the golden nugget. Sometimes, our critics are completely right. Or maybe they are mostly wrong. Regardless, search for that one nugget of truth that is contained within their words, no matter how sharp those words may seem. If there is truth to their criticism, ask yourself if it is something you should act on. Maybe the worship music really is too loud, or maybe the bass player really does need a little guidance from you. Maybe you actually could benefit from spending a little extra time in preparation. Regardless, look for something in their criticism that can help you improve your musicianship or leadership. And then thank them for it.

Offer grace. We are not perfect, worship leading friends. We do make mistakes. And so do the people that criticize us. Offer grace to yourself for any mistakes you’ve made. And offer grace to the other person. Although you may feel attacked, or that their words were harsh, look at their heart. They probably really care about your ministry and about you, or they care about worship, or they worry that they won’t be able to worship if things aren’t just so…. Regardless, offer them the grace that God would give them. And always follow it up with a healthy dose of grace for yourself.

Agree to disagree if need be. Your critics may have something important to say, but sometimes it just isn’t possible to implement what they think should be happening. In which case, you may need to respectfully agree to disagree, but always act out of love and sincerity. Make sure they know that you value them and you value their opinions. Thank them for being willing to speak up!

Let it ride. Sometimes a critic is just having a bad day. That cranky worship team member who doesn’t like that song might just be over-tried from a bad day at work. Or the lady in the third row who is grimacing during worship might just be stressed from financial strain. You may not know what each and every person in your congregation is going through, so if they are giving you a hard time, it might just be because they are having a hard time themselves. Sometimes, you just need to let it go. Ride out the wave of disapproval; offer to help if it seems appropriate.

Appeal to a higher power. Do you feel like you are in over your head? Maybe you tried to work things out and you just can’t. Maybe the problem is a lot bigger than your job description permits. In this case, you may need to confidentially speak with your lead pastor, governing board, or supervisor.

Silence your biggest critic. Yourself. Chances are, you are harder on yourself than anyone else. And that’s why others comments can sting so badly, because it feels like ‘proof’ that you are not as good, smart, musical, worshipful… as you could or should be. Treat yourself the way you treat your other critics – look for the truth so you know how you can improve. But then turn the voice off. Instead of listening to your own negative ruminations, fill your head with God’s voice concerning you. Need some help? Look up Psalm 139. Romans 5:8. John 3:16. God’s thoughts of you are love. And He loves your worship.

Pray. Prayer shouldn’t be our last resort; it’s our first line of defense. It’s not the last thing to do, its best thing to do. So do it! Pray when things are going well and it seems like everyone loves you. Pray when it seems like everyone hates you. Pray all the times in between. God hears each and every prayer.

It can be discouraging when it feels like someone doesn’t love you. But your job is not going to make every person in the congregation happy all of the time. Certainly you have to work within the boundaries of your own congregation, but even when doing so there will be times when conflict and criticism arise. Use the principles in Matthew 18:15-17, James 1:19, Romans 12:17-21 to help you respond. Focus on pleasing the One who always loves you and who inhabits our worship and on showing His love to His beautiful Church.

 

Amanda Furbeck serves as a worship pianist at Bethany United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. She is also a free-lance writer, piano teacher, and cosmetologist. Amanda has led worship in a variety of settings, including women’s ministry events and as music pastor in previous churches. She has a heart for helping people connect with God through music and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Liberty Theological Seminary.

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Jesus Never Used a Countryman Microphone

Macro shot-display of the broadcast video player, equalizer

By Joshua Weiss

How do you prefer your worship service?

I have been leading worship at Abundant Life for nine years. The sound for the weekly service is always a topic of discussion for me. As a media professional, it is always a frustration that I cannot be in the sound booth and on the stage at the same time. Obviously there is not a one setting fits all with the preferred volume level or song selection of a service because every room is different and every setting is different. When you go to big mega-church worship service, they are sometimes running at 110 decibels or higher without any issues – but they are also mixed professionally.

It is real easy for people to have an issue with a mix at 95db when it is mixed poorly and painful to the ears whereas that same individual may not have any issue at 105db if mixed properly – especially if the given song is one that they like.

I’m not at all interested in a concert style worship service. However, there is something to be said if the volume is loud enough that you can’t hear your neighbor sing. This helps those who are tone deaf not be worried that others will hear how bad they sing. It also helps many to feel more free to belt it out without concern that they will be heard by all.

Like many worship leaders, I also want to be able to hear the congregation singing. I am usually very intentional to provide times where the various instruments cut back, or out, with the purpose of boosting the congregational singing clarity.

When I enter the discussion of “what decibel should be the target for a worship service,” it often is followed by the other person implying we have “gotten away from the heart of worship” or something similar to that. As a media professional, I fully understand that every room is different and every band, board and soundman will play, function and hear things differently. If OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is capable of stating standards for health safety to a specific decibel, then why would we feel that the church is incapable of at least setting some reasonable goals to work around?

Many worship leaders are not very versed in sound and as such, this topic is simply not discussed. It seems that one of the more typical difficult relationships in the church is between the worship team and the sound man. Perhaps if the worship team had better understanding of sound, this might not be the case.

The congregation where I serve is multi-generational and multicultural. We run between 150 and 200 in the sanctuary Sunday mornings. Like many, I have fought the typical fights of hymns vs new songs. I am very intentional to include at least one hymn in every service and to not go overboard with newer songs for a number a reasons. Typically, the young people on the worship team don’t recognize the theological depths of the hymns. The melodic values are not as emotionally moving to the younger generation (who didn’t grow up with them) as the new songs. The younger ones also seem to prefer the volume at higher levels. They regularly talk of being able to get into the music much more when they physically feel the kick drum and the bass guitar vibrate their body. I can understand this and it makes complete sense. It incorporates one more of the senses by adding feel to seeing the words, hearing the music and of course singing themselves. The younger worshipper still needs to recognize that the worship isn’t for them.

However, I serve the entire congregation including those who prefer the hymns and would like the sound quieter. To these individuals, I have to help them understand the young person’s side of the debate. I also work with these individuals to understand that the songs they grew up listening to are no more sacred then the songs that are new today. The main difference is familiarity. These individuals may simply be complaining because they do not like the song selection. I believe that there are times that the levels are equally hot during a hymn with no complaints.

I know that it doesn’t seem very spiritual but the technological aspects of a worship service are equally important as the quality of ones voice on the stage or the lyrics that are being sung – well, almost as important as the lyrics. In order to have excellence, it requires being intentional. Education, research, and focus on the physical elements that comprise a typical worship service in America is part of the process.

What often happens in smaller church worship teams is people tend to think everything they have is junk. I cannot count the times someone has implied “this” or “that” stinks and we need to replace it with “First Church of X” has. Being intentional about the physical aspects of a worship service is not focusing on what we do not have by comparing what bigger budget churches may have. It is focusing on being the most faithful we are capable of being with what we have already been made stewards over.

I don’t care for the seeker friendly or trendy settings. I am interested in pointing people to Christ and doing whatever I can to lead people into worship.

My initial question was simply intended to get a pulse for what others do. It sometimes seems like there are more who are “too spiritual” to focus on practical elements like sound quality. Of course, David didn’t struggle with a sound system and Jesus never had to use a Countryman microphone or worry about feedback. This doesn’t mean that those things are less spiritual than if we were to simply chant acapella or have a biblical style harp as our only instrument. They also didn’t use the printing press to print the scriptures they would read and they didn’t have a projector to display the words.

Let’s talk about this stuff. These are my thoughts. Let me know yours.

 

Joshua Weiss is a husband of 13 years and serves as worship and media pastor at Abundant Life in Grand Prairie, TX. He is a partner at The Walk TV network and a partner at EICB, a full service production company where he produces the Christian television programs. Find out more at www.joshuadweiss.com  |  twitter.com/scrapper24

 

The Modern Worship Revolution: Did It Help Us or Hurt Us?

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By Dan Leverence

In the mid to late 1990s, the “Modern Worship Revolution” was in full swing. I was finishing up college and the very first Passion album (Live Worship from the 268 Generation) was being released. Rock bands were becoming increasingly common in churches and the church music landscape was evolving significantly. We were being introduced to the likes of Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Charlie Hall, Lincoln Brewster, and Hillsong. It was a good time to be an aspiring worship leader.

Fast forward a few years. EVERY mainstream Christian artist was releasing a worship album. The market was being saturated with church music. At the same time, the accessibility of technology was (and still is) making it much easier (and less expensive) for artists to record albums. Church worship bands like Gateway, Elevation, Bethel, and many others (ours included) have become artists who write and record their own original music, adding to the cacophony that continues the modern worship revolution.

Today, I can visit ten (or a hundred) different churches on any given weekend and never hear a single common song. “Contemporary” is ambiguous and churches search for the next descriptive word to describe their “all-together-really-cool-and-the-most-current-relevant-style-to-your-life” sound. Right at the moment, everyone wants to sound like Mumford and Sons, but soon it’ll change and we’ll move on to another influence.

Before you think that I’m having a mid-life crisis of musical philosophy, let me assure you I’m not. I find myself fully immersed in the very same activity – searching for relevance and desiring that our church would be a place that people would want to come to worship. But as I grow older, I’m beginning to realize that the “modern worship revolution” may have done more harm than I would have once liked to admit. And here’s how I know …

A funny thing has happened over the last few years. We’re seeing the resurgence of hymns in our worship experiences. Sure, we write our own new arrangements or add a new chorus, but churches are once again using the time-honored songs of the Christian faith with increasing regularity. It’s certainly happening here at Constance Free Church. A few weeks ago we actually used two hymns in our weekend services (probably the first time that’s happened in the ten years that I’ve been here) and I joked with our teams that I’d be installing a pipe organ the following week. All kidding aside though, there’s a reason why it’s happening. Why? Because those songs are among the most well-known for the church and people connect deeply in worship with familiarity. We’re even starting to write new songs now that feel like hymns (Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons and even my own Quiet Voice among many others).

Additionally, bands and contemporary Christian artists that were once dedicated to recording their own original songs are becoming cover bands. Newsboys is singing “Your Love Never Fails” and “God’s Not Dead” (which they didn’t write as originals) and I could go on with countless other examples. While I’m always a little (ok, a lot) bothered that the original artist isn’t the one who’s able to get their song on the radio charts, I think it’s indicative of a trend: the Christian community is hungry for more common music and thus, the modern worship revolution is entering a new phase.

The way I choose new worship music for my church has become more of a middlebrained art and science than it ever has been before. The days of flippantly choosing a song because I liked it are gone. Now, I have a multifaceted system and review process before a new worship song ever makes it into one of our worship experiences. I check the Christian radio charts religiously and I follow several churches who post their worship sets online. When I see a song that at LEAST two other churches are doing, I’m willing to consider it. This obviously doesn’t apply to our original music. Thankfully, I’m part of a church community that values creativity and the opportunity to sing songs that we’ve written but we balance those with the rest of our repertoire. If I’m introducing a new original song for the very first time, I make sure that the rest of our worship set includes a lot of familiar tunes. The result for us has been a dramatic increase in congregational connectedness during our worship gatherings and that’s worth it for me.

So did the modern worship revolution help us or hurt us? Yes.


Dan Leverence has served as the Creative Arts Pastor at Constance Free Church in suburban Minneapolis, MN for the past 10 years and is also an adjunct instructor of Music Ministry at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. He lives with his wife, Angie, and their son, Tate. Visti, middlebrained.com

How American Idol Hurts Worship

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By Steven D. Brooks

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Psalm 96:1-2

We have a problem in our churches I like to call the American Idol Syndrome. Because of our culture’s obsession with American Idol, The Voice, and other “reality” singing competitions, our congregations oftentimes come to worship services with two preconceived ideas: 1) they expect the worship team singers to sound like the latest competitors on television; and 2) they feel minimized because they don’t sound like the competitors on television.

Have you ever heard someone in your church tell you they can’t sing? Over my years in ministry I have heard many Christians say they can’t sing. And they believe it. Either they were told so at a young age or they just don’t feel confident when they sing. My response is always the same: “That is a lie from the pit of hell.” I believe this is one of the greatest lies the evil one has convinced us of. Satan knows the power of singing God’s praises, so he has convinced us that we can’t, or shouldn’t sing. We must stop believing that lie! When we buy into the lie, Satan is victorious.

Our congregations must be instructed and encouraged to use their voices, no matter how they sound, for the glory of God. Singing is an important part of offering our worship to God.

1. Singing Is a Scriptural Command
Scripture commands us to sing to the Lord. This is not an option, nor a recommendation. It is a command that everyone has the ability to fulfill. It doesn’t matter how old you are or if you have any formal musical training. There are no prerequisites. The song of the church is to be sung by everyone.

In the Old Testament, singing was an important mandated element of worship in the temple. The Levites were instructed to sing and to lead the people in song; and the people were expected to join in the singing. There are numerous psalms that command the worshiper to sing (68:4; 96:1-2; 105:2; 149:1; to name a few). The Apostle Paul encouraged the New Testament church to sing (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). Christianity is a singing faith. From the Old and New Testaments to today, the church of God has always and will always be a singing faith. Worshipers have no option but to sing. As Constance Cherry states in her book The Worship Architect, “The crucial question is not, ‘Do you have a voice?’ but ‘Do you have a song?’” (p.154).

2. Singing Allows Us to Rehearse God’s Story
Congregational song is the heart and soul of all worship music. As we gather for worship, the songs we sing remind us of God’s story. We remember all God has done for us in the past, recall the blessings he has permitted for us in the present, and anticipate all God has promised to accomplish in the future. Singing the story of God joins us with the saints of old and the heavenly hosts.

I will sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me,
How he left his home in glory for the cross of Calvary.
Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story of the Christ who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory gathered by the crystal sea.
(Francis H. Rowley, public domain)

3. Singing Forms Us Spiritually
The songs we sing in church embed themselves into our minds as truth. I have had conversations with people about faith and they begin, without realizing, to quote song lyrics as a defense for what they believe. The words of hymns and worship songs sung over the years have become an important part of their belief system.

Plato once said, “Let me write the songs of a nation, and I care not who writes its laws.” He understood the power of songs to shape the beliefs and lives of people.

4. Singing Has the Power to Unite
Singing is an important aspect of communal worship as it has the power to unite groups of people. Even within secular settings, singing has the powerful affect of uniting people: strangers sing together as they gather to remember someone at a memorial service or fans sing “Sweet Caroline” at a Red Sox game. Within the Church, singing together is the quickest way to unite a gathering of individuals, no matter how large or small, into one corporate worshiping body: the body of Christ. 

When it comes to the musical worship of the church, instruments are great tools to enhance our worship, but it is the voice by which the congregation can offer their praises to God. Singing provides the church with the chance to fulfill Scriptural commands, rehearse the story of God, allow the Holy Spirit to form our lives, and unite with others in worship and praise. St. Augustine once stated, “He who sings prays twice.” Let us lift our voices in prayer and praise.

Steven is a Worship Pastor and also Professor of Worship at Azusa Pacific University. He holds a Doctor of Worship Studies and is the founder of Worship Quest Ministries, providing worship resources and coaching for churches. He lives in Southern California with his wife and two sons.

 

New Team Member Expectations

Rusty chains linked together

By Greg Jones

Whenever I begin leading worship for a new team or acquire new musicians, I lay out expectations in a packet that I give them. The following is a layout of those expectations. I hope this will be a helpful guide for other worship leaders.

Practice
Practice with the MP3, using it as a guide to supplement the chord chart in order to determine dynamics, accents, groove, song structure and most time signature lines.

Rehearsals are not practices. Please give your fellow team mates the courtesy of practicing on your own time so that rehearsals will run as smooth as possible. Please come prepared! Take notes on the charts if necessary.

As another courtesy, if you need to set up your instrument, please do so BEFORE the start of rehearsal.

General Worship Team Expectations:

Punctuality, preparation and a humble attitude, coupled with a passion for excellence. Humility is having the boldness to stare our weaknesses in the eye without flinching. If we couple that with passion for God, people and music, then such humility will fuel us to want to grow so that we do this tomorrow better than we did it yesterday. We ARE performers but GOD is the audience so give Him nothing less than your best as your act of worship! This act also teaches the congregation to do likewise with our very lives, not simply with tunes.

Attitude produces altitude so humility and passion trump even your singing/playing skills as long as you have the basic fundamentals down.

You will have to be able to learn the music on a week to week basis.

It is at the worship leader’s discretion to give allowances for chronically late attendance and missed rehearsals if a reasonable excuse is given. Examples might be because you are serving/attending traditional service, a small group, helping out another church, or child-care issues.

Know when you’re the ‘elephant’ and when another instrument is. Stay out of the way of the way of the ‘elephant’ when it’s not you. When in doubt, less is more.

Our vision is served by our mission. Our mission is partially served by the music, its style(s) chosen based upon the vision and mission. We are to serve the style of the song. Classical singing contemporary music or throwing hair band 80’s guitar riffs and tones into Amazing Grace is not going to serve the song even if it is done with great skill and talent.

Vocalists Expectations:

• Sing in tune

• Sing in a contemporary style

o Moderate vibrato

o Contemporary vowel enunciations

o Watch those diphthongs and trip thongs. Example: “Praise” should not be sung as “Pray – eese!”

• Blend with the other vocalists

• Facial and physical expressions communicate more than our words so communicate the passion you have outwardly. YOU are all worship leaders!

Drummers Expectations:

• Tight tempos

• A sense of dynamics

• Know where the song is going. The rest of the team cues off of you when moving through the song structure from verses to choruses, etc. so it is important that you know the song structures. Whether that means you use the charts, keep notes or memorize, that is up to you.

• Tastefulness. Don’t hold back on those flashy chops (if you have them in your arsenal), but try not to overplay either. Don’t worry, I won’t micromanage here ☺.

Guitarists Expectations:

• Play for the style. Throwing blues licks into God of Wonders is probably not going to work ☺.

• Acoustic guitarists

o It is generally a fact that you will only be heard during softer parts of songs. Don’t take it personally.

o Learn to use a capo when appropriate.

• Electric guitarists

o Tailor your tones for the style.

o Listen to recordings of contemporary music for tonal cues (Lincoln Brewster, Hillsong, Jesus Culture, Redman, etc…). From the secular side, Eric Johnson, John Mayer, U2’s the Edge and even Slash have produced tones that can work very well within the genre. Things to stay away from? Excessive use of chorus and other modulation effects, pointy pink guitars, and probably little use (if any) of wah wahs.

• If you are a skilled soloist, I encourage you to give those skills to God as your act of worship. Just try to be tasteful and make sure it fits the song or style. Always demonstrate such skills with humility, performing for God and not for people. Let your attitude of humility inspire people to ask, “Who are they playing for?” and your excellence inspire them to ask “Why is their audience (God) so important that they give Him their all with such passion?” Just as light appears brighter when in the presence of darkness, humility shines brighter when in the presence of skill.

Bassists Expectations:

• Hit the right notes. While every musician has this challenge, it is probably most important to the band for you to be on top of this since your instrument so strongly defines the harmonic structure.

• Sense of rhythm/groove. The bass is a sort of bridge between the pitch instruments and rhythm instruments. Learn to play the grooves for each song and ‘in the pocket’.

• Know when to NOT play.

o Usually dynamics are the driving force. Play more when the song is big and less when it is small.

Keyboardists Expectations:

• I’m sorry that in contemporary, the guitarist’s get to hog so many of the fun songs. Just remember that the last will be first! ☺

• Use patches/sounds that are appropriate for the song and styles. In contemporary, these are common patches/sounds:

o Pianos
o Organs
o Strings
o Pads

• Try thinking like an orchestra. You don’t always have to play chords. Sometimes playing single note melodies, fills and counterpoint is just the ticket to put a song over the top!

 Greg has over ten years of experience serving as a contemporary worship leader at various churches in the Dayton, Ohio area. He is currently a worship leader seeking new worship leader opportunities. Greg is also an adjunct professor of guitar at Cedarville University. He has recorded three albums, The Science of Music (with his former band The Collaboration Element), String Theory, an instrumental guitar oriented rock album and Manifest Destiny, an instrumental piano album.
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