Getting Out of the Way

In order to be transparent on stage, excellence in sound quality and musical performance are both essential. We often pray as a worship team before our services that we would be “invisible” to the congregation, so they would only see Jesus and that the morning’s worship is not derailed by our good or bad playing and singing.

So, what does technical and musical transparency look like? The answer to that question is a moving target based on many factors. And those factors are completely different for different groups of people. Let’s break it down and talk about the technical side first. Obviously, if your sound system is too loud or too soft, feeds back suddenly, or has buzzes and hisses, that’s going to be a distraction. Sure, a portion of the group won’t notice, but some will, and those folks will have a tough time focusing on worshiping God. Of course, descriptions like “too loud” and “too soft” are extremely subjective and no matter what you do, you’ll probably get folks in the same service telling you both are true. I think the best way to try to remove the sound system distraction is by maintaining consistency from week to week. People will adjust to what it sounds like, as long as it always sounds the same. So, if you don’t have one already, go buy a sound pressure level meter and use it every week to monitor the volume.

Make It Personal
The technical side also affects the musicians and vocalists. A good stage monitoring system is critical. If the monitors sound bad, or reflect a bad mix, the worship leader will be distracted trying to hear what he or she needs to hear, and won’t be able to focus on the song, the congregation’s response, or flow of the service as a whole. Part of the solution at our church was the addition of a personal monitoring system. As a musician, having control of my own mix is wonderful. If I’m distracted by a bad mix, it’s my own fault for not getting it dialed in sound check. And it frees up the sound tech at the console to focus only on what’s being heard by the congregation.

On the musical side of things, excellence equals transparency, too. Of course there are always exceptions, but quite often a band that can barely keep it together isn’t going to help draw the congregation into a time of worship. Spend time thinking through arrangements. Not only should you figure out how many times to sing the chorus, but decide who plays what when. The whole band doesn’t need to be playing the whole song. Have the drummer lay out for the 3rd verse, or start the song with an a capella chorus. Write out charts your musicians can follow easily. Rehearse the arrangements exactly how you’d like them to go in the service. Spend time in rehearsals talking and playing through what you might do if the Spirit leads, like adding an extra chorus, or going back to sing the bridge again.

Willing and Able
It’s obvious to say, but the quality of the team as a whole is directly proportionate to the quality of the individual musicians. I don’t have to tell you that one of the most uncomfortable situations for a worship leader to deal with is willing and enthusiastic individuals that don’t have a lot of musical skill. Note I said “skill” not “talent” or “availability.” Skill is developed through practice and experience, and showing up for sound check on Sunday morning doesn’t count as “practice.”

But beyond that, it’s good for your team members to have a clear understanding of their role as a worship leader and as a musician. Simply being on stage puts them in a position of leading worship. It is something we do in humility and attempting to shine the spotlight on God. We aren’t up there to show off our guitar chops, beat the piano player to the riffs between the lines of the verse, or sing the highest note. It’s about being “invisible” and leading the congregation into a time of worshiping Jesus.

To find out more about Brain Steckler, visit his website.

(Originally published in Worship Leader, Sept ’09)

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