By Tom Sullivan
Now that we have gotten through Easter, it’s tempting to set up worship cruise control and coast through the summer months. And maybe we can do a little of that, but it might be a good time for a little spring cleaning—take a look at our processes and see if we can freshen things up a bit. Many of us turn to self-improvement plans too often to suit the expectations of the world. As worshipers, maybe we need to look into other areas of … “refreshing” within our ministry. Whether we are paid worship leaders, volunteer worship leaders, worship team members or non-designated worship leaders (we are ALL called to worship God in our daily life), there are areas we can review in our worship.
Before we go further, let’s make sure our emphasis is on worship and not music. Worship of our God is what each of us is called to, and though we often think in terms of music, the two really are two different things. Worship is, at its atomic level a decision – that decision to determine from our heart that our worship should be focused on valuing God in who he is and what He has done and recognizing Christ as our Savior. That doesn’t require hymnals, musical instruments, overheads or projectors, fog machines or even singing. None of those things is wrong, of course, but just not necessary.
So, what can we do to get our hearts right before we enter as members of the worship team? Simple, let’s focus on a bed of prayer (talks with God), Bible study (letters from God), and doing what He asks of us when he asks (working with God). Oh how simple, although not always easy, that is! That pretty well covers how we can improve our focus on Him. So, what about the rest of the parts of being part of the worship team? Well, I think those efforts falls into several areas depending on whether you are a worship leader or team member.
As worship team members, we should always keep our worship leaders, staff, and assistants in prayer. (As a disclaimer, I am not a paid or volunteer worship leader, but have been blessed by a number who have been.). Although we may joke that worship leaders, like pastors, “only have to work Wednesday and Sunday”, these 21st century Levites often have a list of almost impossible tasks. They can be, and often are, called on to clean toilets, answer phones, attend meetings, perform manual setup work, handle ministry accounting, setup equipment, and more that sometimes appears to have little to do with the weekly worship services. On top of that, they are sometimes expected to know how to play all instruments, be perfect in all keys, able to transcribe music to all keys, fluent in the Nashville numbering systems, know all MIDI controller messages, to be able to judge someone’s music or heart perfectly, and to always know just the right amount of volume, EQ, lighting, traditional music, contemporary music, choir music, urban music, etc. They are also often the recipients of hurtful emails and people questioning their judgment. Oh, and they should always smile, even when they are gone from their families the 4th night that week. Let’s face it, it is a tough job, and they can use our prayers. You may even want to take it a step further and occasionally drop your worship leader an encouraging note or bring them a coffee or snack sometime. Better yet, how about step up once in a while and offer to assist with all those tasks keeping your worship leader so busy – things that anyone can do like setting up equipment or chairs, emailing information out, or researching songs. God equips each of us with other traits that can help the team and lessen the stress on our leaders.
As worship leaders, you want to return that favor of prayers to your worship team. Most are volunteers who may be coming right from work and may have had rough days themselves and may have their own set of other issues. Additionally, they too are taking time from their families to be a part of the worship team. Sometimes they may not be sure exactly what is expected where and when, and may have planned something entirely differently than what is now occurring musically. Like many musicians, they may be very good in one style, but not as comfortable in another.
As a church body, ask God to show you, your worship leader, and your pastor WHO your church should be. Don’t try to be a copy of a seemingly successful mega-church, a clone of a successful worship leader or song writer, or anyone else. The reason that Hillsong, Brooklyn Tabernacle, Israel Houghton, Chris Tomlin, and others became so successful is that they determined to be who God made them to be – NOT to try to copy someone else!
Here’s the bottom line for all of us. The best we can do is to be specific about spiritual and musical expectations for being part of the team as well as for each worship experience. Though that task may fall some on our worship leaders, as members we need to do our part to verify we understand and ask questions before rehearsal night or performance time. We all should be as prepared as possible (based on the gifts God has provided each of us) once we enter for the service. That means not just musically prepared, but emotionally and spiritually prepared also. Before the service starts, each of us should be “prayed up” and ready to musically “play up” (upwards to God). Once we can get to the realization that God is our focus, the worship will come naturally. When the congregation is led by a worship team who are worshipping, they too will fall into worship more easily.
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.