By Tom Sullivan
So, you’ve downloaded and practiced all the latest worship songs, your team is seemingly prepared at their best, and the church is celebrating Jesus. But, you can’t seem to shake the fact that something is missing, wrong, too vanilla, or just not what you expect. Maybe you and your team are in a musical or spiritual rut!
It is natural and easy to focus on a single style, song key, instrumental grouping, or other music or spiritual characteristic. We too often – in all areas of our lives and our ministries – tend to limit ourselves and our ministries to what we have always done or how we have always done it. But, God doesn’t call us to always be “comfortable”. Maybe we as the worship leaders need to look outside our comfort zone! We’re on the spiritual front lines so we should extend that line to expanding the mission.
We know what the basic purpose of the praise and worship team is to worship God. We should be ourselves in worship and in doing so lead others into worshipping God. That should always be our main purposes. But once past that, where else can we make a difference in our worship team communities? Let’s talk about some areas we can expand how and where we can improve out ministry.
Pre-Service Ministry Preparation to help prepare the service environment to be more worshipful. With ever changing songs and new music coming out, how do we quickly involve the congregation and team in learning these songs? How about have upcoming songs playing prior to or after worship – weeks prior – to help the congregation “learn” the song before it is in service by the worship team? Hearing the melody during transitions can help the members focus on the message of the words when the worship team uses the song in service.
Special Ministry Presentations to Enhance the Service: Change up the style or instrumental grouping of the service to enhance the service. You could have an all- acoustic (unplugged) service, or add a style you typically would not perform in your service and could include worship ministries from outside the church. Additionally you might use a much smaller – or much larger – group than usual. The focus clearly should NOT be to showcase talent or put on shows, but to provide the message in a new way. It also should not be a place to be different for the sake of being different. This should be a refreshing time for your worship team.
Strengthening the Team Dynamics: If you as a worship leader are trying to carry the team, each section, and all the work, you may be missing an opportunity bring together a team of people who will help improve using their talents and gifts and wearing yourself down at the same time. Consider adding section leaders to assist lesser experienced or lesser qualified musicians or to help bring in new musicians. Working toward improved quality (but not expecting the state of perfection) could raise the power of the worship experience not only for your congregation but for the team! If the music is well known by the worship team, that leaves them with the ability to more easily focus on worship and not worry about what chord or word comes next. New team members also give worn regular members the opportunity to refresh with their families and to see the worship from a different perspective. Part of this effort may include pre-service prayer time together as a team. Whenever we prepare to worship and to lead others in worship, it should be prayerfully done and not in a confused or disrupted state.
Reaching out beyond, and within, your walls: We often forget that the worship team has opportunities for outreach just like other subgroups of the church. The worship team can expand kingdom relationships as well as to enhance their ministry at the same time. How would the church kingdom grow if different denominational and/or racial churches would work together to “trade off” worship teams several times a year? For example, what if a church that focuses on the style of Chris Tomlin switched teams with a church that mainly focused on urban choir styles or worship? Would time doing this finally help is keep from judging other churches based on their style or quality? What if those teams went further and actually spent time together investing in a shared worship service or community outreach event? Perhaps even a regular regional worship training event or Christian coffee shop could be built to help all the teams learn from each other. We need to remember that we are one army all for the same purpose. Your team could specifically make efforts to unify the praise and worship team as a group as well as to be unified with the Pastor’s vision for the church. You could have a single get-together as a group (band, vocalists, and Sound crew outside of rehearsal nights, build newsletters, providing telephone lists, team prayer trees, etc.
Team Discipleship: Focus the praise team members on the biblical purpose of music, praise, and worship. Train the members specifically in what the Bible says and use supplemental information from approved other sources that do not contradict the Bible. Remind the team that as a ministry, they are required to practice and to do our best (“play skillfully”) as well as to be joyful about our ministry (“make a joyful noise”). Help them to recognize the importance of praying about whether you are on the team to perform or to serve the Lord. Provide involvement with children’s ministry, rally nights, youth ministry, youth praise band, and other mentoring opportunities. Continue to train team members through vocal exercises, percussion training, responsibilities of instrument usage, stage logistics (on/off/quietness), Exit/Entry logistics, planned placement of equipment and personnel, etc. Plan for music training in areas such as MIDI, music reading and dictation, sound board preps, etc. Help the team to understand the importance of the music selection, as well as the different worship music types (celebratory, performance, worshipful, etc.). Also important is to explain to members why silence (or not playing or singing) can add to music.
Team Improvement: Find ways to improve the abilities of the worship team. Tape occasional services to see where area could be improved to lessen distraction and improve the environment for worship through equipment changes or moves. Reinforce training of leadership cues so that worship team members know instinctively when to go to a bridge or a second verse, for example. Provide warm-up exercises and tips for musical as well as spiritual preparation. Help them to learn freedom with unity and how to achieve balance, harmonize and blend. Encourage musicians to stretch themselves and to listen to other musicians.
Team Administration: Although many musicians and worship leaders are more “right brained” or artistic, God provides us all we need to serve him and that could include performing more “left brained” or structured tasks. Does the worship team know and understand the focus of your church body? Do they understand the requirements for being a team member and a part of the service? Do they know responsibilities of key members of the team? How about the calendar and what is coming up within the next few months? What gifts do your team member have that could help the team – who are your prayer partners, your administrative members, your possible section leaders, the members that easily fall into hospitality? What are their weaknesses and strengths, gifts and desires?
Finally: Don’t expect to follow these suggestions legalistically or do to them all at once. An artistic person trying to follow all these suggestions could quickly get overwhelmed and revert to trying none of them! Some things may not suit your church or your team. Others may not be feasible for other reasons. And there could easily be other ways to strengthen your team that are not covered here. But, consider this as a white board draft for taking your team to the next step, improving the gift God has provided to you, and expanding His Kingdom through these and other ideas.
Tom Sullivan lives and worships in the Richmond, Virginia area. He enjoys writing and arranging, and has played trumpet, bass, keyboards, and percussion over the years. Tom is a member of ASCAP, has written for the CCLI.com Worship Corner, and is thankful for a forgiving, gracious God.