The Doctor Is In

by Dr. Craig Gilbert

Let’s learn from each other how to thrive in the ministry path on which God has set us all. This new column will be here for each of you to find blessing, strength, encouragement, as well as new ideas for problem-solving the difficult situations that many of us in ministry share. We will go outside of the craft of our ministries and take a look at the relationships that make up our ministries. Your direct questions about how to handle these issues will be addressed in this column, so please, start sharing your questions with us at worshipleader.com/contact or Instagram.com/worship.leader

When we have church I work hard to lead worship that will speak God’s message to people through all aspects of what we do together. But during the week it is hard to focus on my ministry. There always seems to be somebody in the church who isn’t happy. I am just struggling with who I am in ministry and serving through tough times. Any thoughts that can help?

Signed,

Needs Inspiration Again

Our time together, while fulfilling and spiritually refreshing, is only part one of God’s two-part action: God calls and God sends. One answer to your question can actually be found in that weekly worship service. The historical ending to Christian worship services is an act of dismissal. This act of dismissal usually is the shortest part of the service, yet the direction of this action and its implications for the role of the Church in the world is enormous. Typically there are two parts to the dismissal: the Benediction and the Sending Forth. Each of these parts provides a crucial reminder of what it means to be both a worshiper and a follower of God.

The Benediction is a blessing that is given by God to God’s people. The Benediction is for us. It reminds us of not just who we are, people loved and blessed by God, but whose we are. We belong to and serve God. This information is important for two reasons. First, as we re-enter the world at the conclusion of the worship service, we are reminded that we do not enter that world alone or without resource. God goes with us, and even more, God leads us. We follow in the path that God has ordained for our lives. God’s love and blessing will sustain us.

The Sending Forth, however, is for the benefit of the world. It is a reminder that God called us in so that we can be prepared to be sent out. Worship was never meant to only be an action or exchange between believers and God for the mutual benefit of both. No, the gathering of worship was also meant to continually prepare us for, and release us into, service to all of creation.

When addressing the dismissal from worship, Dr. Robert Webber wrote in his book Worship Old and New, “The true worship of God inevitably leads the people of God into positive social action. Our calling is to worship God not only with our lips, but with our lives.” (p. 194)

The Sending Forth reminds us of that commission so that we never forget that we have a purpose in God’s plan. This reminder of our mission is meant to give us courage, boldness, humility, and perseverance when our faith is tested as we go about the work of the Lord.

Pastors and Worship Leaders, we are meant to be encouraged by the Dismissal as well. As we go about the mission and ministry of the Church, we are faced with difficulties. Criticisms, sorrows, and yes, even betrayals, are all too common realities for those charged with leading the Church. And yet, hear the truth of the Benediction and the resolve of the Sending Forth: Who you are, makes you blessed. Whose you are, makes you worthy. The One who sends you and in whose name you work makes the mission valuable above any and all hindrances.

Until next time…

Worship Leader: Go forth to love and serve the Lord
People: Thanks be to God!
All: Amen!

A PLACE FOR PASSION

By Dr. Cheryl Wilson Bridges 

And when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.” Acts 2:1

I am a sanguine. That means my personality type is one that is primarily outgoing and desires engagement. I would say due to my temperament, I have a passion for people. So I find gatherings pleasurable. Most often when we gather, we relish the opportunity to fellowship because of a festive occasion. As a society, we love to gather for parties, graduations, weddings, sporting events, political rallies, concerts, movies, theatre entertainment, and much, much more. These fun occasions are usually greatly anticipated and delightful. Once the event begins, we soak up and savor every moment. We are passionate about our experience of the day and share it widely with our family and friends. Then we long for the next time we are able to experience this very special event again.

I am also a New Yorker. So you can understand that I have a passion for the theater. But you don’t have to be from New York to know that the play “Hamilton” is a widely anticipated event. Tickets for this 11 time Tony-award winning Broadway play are so coveted and expensive that average prices can rival your rent payments! Yet people from every state and even around the world gather to see this phenomenal play. However, even if you have the money to spend, tickets are in such high demand you still might not be able to get in. Waiting lists for “Hamilton” are months long! The passion for this play is palpable.

Yet there are other more serious, solemn, and sacred reasons why we gather. We gather when loved ones are ill, when someone dies, or when we come to worship in the powerful presence of God. So this night, long ago, was like no other. It was a night of solemnity, power, and passion when Jesus and his disciples gathered for the last time. Despite their unprecedented and joyful assembling for Jesus’ miracles; the disciples had yet to experience something most mind-boggling. For the ultimate sacrifice, they would unknowingly partake in all three of these serious, solemn, and sacred reasons to gather. 

A Passionate Prediction 

While Jesus was teaching and preaching to the people, he told his disciples several times that he was going to suffer tremendously when they got to Jerusalem. Isn’t it ironic how many times we suffer most at the hands of our own family, friends, or church members? In the Book of Mark, Jesus shared his fate three times with his disciples. Jesus wanted them to realize the seriousness of the events to come. The Bible reads, “Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. ‘We are going up to Jerusalem’, he said ‘and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise’” (Mark 10:32 (last part)-34 NIV).

Jesus felt the great weight of his calling. He was deeply distressed and experiencing emotional suffering and sorrow. So Jesus gathered his disciples to pray with him in the garden of Gethsemane. He knew that a prayer gathering would give him the power to endure the great tribulations ahead. Yet his disciples were unable to pray because they could not even stay awake! During this time of dire emotional distress, Jesus’ closest friends: Peter, James, and John were asleep! Prayer brings power! It is amazing how little we tap into the power of prayer in our own worship lives. Many of us as singers and musicians create sets with great prayers and high praise. Yet how often do we go into our private prayer closets and pray for God’s will, power, and purpose in our own lives no matter the cost? Many times we are emotionally asleep. We are just going through the worship motions. Instead, we should allow the motions of our Master to move through us in prayer.

More importantly, how often do we gather yet overlook the broken hearts of those around us because we are lax, inattentive, or preoccupied with our own problems? Unity brings opportunity. As we come together in worship, we are given the opportunity to support one another. We need our church community to pray with us and build us up so we can battle the forces of evil. Jesus gave his disciples the opportunity to come together in prayer so they would have the power and passion to fulfill their purpose. They were to be with him during his darkest hours. But when Jesus’ predictions came true, the disciples were seemingly unprepared. Instead of gathering together as had been their custom, when the priests came to arrest Jesus they fled. Do we do the same in our darkest hours? When circumstances are dire and problems and trials abound, instead of gathering with the community of Christ, we flee from him. We may even lose our desire to pray and praise. Then all alone, separated from our Savior, we can predict the outcome. Satan will win the battle without unity and community in Christ.

Pent Up Versus Pentecost 

In the Garden, the disciples were frightened. All at once they scattered and their great faith faded. The disciples were like sheep without a shepherd. How is it that we can be with Jesus and trust him yet when the first trial comes, too often, we flee or fail him. Is our faith so feeble and our fears so deep? Does our humanity at times cloud God’s divinity? I admit for me, it is probably all of the above. Maybe the same goes for you. But it is hard to understand how the disciples could have been so scared during the crucifixion when they witnessed miracle after miracle during Jesus’ ministry. However don’t we witness miracles on a daily basis as well? Haven’t you had a testimony of God’s undeniable power in your own life? I know I have. Yet like the disciples when the road gets rough, the righteous get running. When worry overwhelms us we suffer. We become pent up by our anxiety instead of waiting for the Holy Spirit of Pentecost to fall on us. Our lack of faith creates an insurmountable crisis and we become paralyzed. Instead of waiting for Pentecost, we worry and are pent up by fear.

So after his crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples again gathered. The Biblical rationale and motivating forces behind their gathering were for three uncommon yet compelling reasons: emotional suffering, being overwhelmed, and to receive power. So let’s look at how these inducements apply to why we gather today.

Why Gather: Emotional Suffering 

“On the evening of the first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:19 NIV)  Often God will allow trials to test us and strengthen our faith. Fear is the first emotion mentioned in the Bible (Gen. 1:8). Fear and anxiety leave us broken and unable to think clearly. As artists, we lead with our emotions. Yet at times we are crippled by them. Dr. Mary Lamia of Psychology Today notes that “Fear and anxiety are important to differentiate, to the extent that one can do so. These emotions can transform into behaviors that may lead you to avoid situations or into defense mechanisms that may obscure the recognition of reality, and consequently, they have been understood as keys to the dynamics of emotional illness”. Without Christ, fear is a negative feeling that brings emotional suffering.

Yet there is another kind of fear. There are a reverence and solemn fear that God uses to bestow wisdom and strengthen our faith (Proverbs 9:10). Jesus uses suffering for sanctification and salvation.

So it was no wonder that the first emotion mentioned regarding the assembled disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion was fear. They knew that Jesus said he would rise again on the They knew that Jesus said he would rise again on the third day. Yet instead of coming together in anticipation of the unfathomable, the disciples gathered in fear of the unknown. They were worried about what the church members would say or do. They had their focus on the people instead of the promise. Many times in worship we let distress rule the day. We try to create an atmosphere of worship pleasantries instead of wonder-working power. But the purpose we gather is for God’s passion not for placating people. We lock out what we know is right and settle for what will soothe the crowd. We lock ourselves into a worship rut because it is easy and acceptable instead of essential and irresistible.

But Christ was about to inject himself into their circumstances and turn their problems into praise. Jesus came to bring them peace. He knew they were perplexed and confused. Real peace is priceless! It gives you the emotional security to combat any crisis. So Jesus brought peace with his presence. The same is true for you today. Let Jesus’ presence in your heart and mind bring peace to your problems. You will not know real peace if you don’t have real problems! Emotional suffering is a path to spiritual growth. Let Jesus use his testing tool of suffering to strengthen your faith. 

Why Gather: Being Overwhelmed 

“On one occasion while he was eating with them he gave them this command: Do not leave Jerusalem but wait for the gift my Father promised which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 1: 4-5). Jesus knew that now more than ever his disciples needed to be comforted and cleansed. In some way, they all had doubted. Now Jesus was in their midst to repair the breach and provide assurance that the promised gift of the Father would come. It is interesting that the Greek word for baptize (baptiz) also means to overwhelm. Jesus commanded his disciples to wait together to be overwhelmed. Jesus promised to overwhelm them with the Holy Spirit!

So many times we are overwhelmed by our jobs, ministries, families, and various personal responsibilities. How often are we overwhelmed and cleansed by the Holy Spirit? What a wonderful reason to gather. When we come together in unity and love, the sacred presence of the Holy Spirit is full and free. Let’s wait together and pray for Christ to fulfill his ancient promise in our lives today. Together we can be overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit and be immersed in God’s compassion and love.

Why Gather: To Receive Power 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). There is strength in numbers. Jesus Christ knew that the disciples needed one another to withstand the trials and tribulations ahead. He commanded them to remain together until they received Holy Spirit power. Many times we don’t realize that the power God plans to bestow on us is ignited within the community of faith. We are enriched and embolden in an environment of encouragement and support. We learn and grow spiritually from interacting with one another which enables us to have the courage to go out and witness to the world. The place for passion is found in the garden of our hearts. As we bond together in community, we share the sacrifice, presence, and power of Jesus Christ to the world.

How to Receive Fair Pay as a Worship Pastor

What amount can you ask for and still honor your church?
by Samuel Ogles

It’s time. Whether you’ve been interviewing for a new job or preparing for your performance review, it’s time you find the courage to broach the hard topic: Your Pay.

Pay is rarely an easy topic to bring up in any work setting, but in the church additional fears and bias can surface. You don’t want to seem stingy, but you still have bills to pay. You want to serve God with reckless abandon, but also put food on your table.

So what’s the balance between pay and ministry?

The first thing you should know is that God desires for you to be paid fairly. Scripture time and again confirms fair, just wages for good work (e.g., 1 Tim. 5:18, Deut. 24:15, Luke 10:7).

But what does fair pay look like for your position? And how do you even begin to have that conversation with your supervisor or hiring committee?

When it comes to determining fair pay for your role, the first step should always be good data.

Find salary data specific to your role in the church. Make sure your data is reliable and church-specific. If possible, find multiple sources of salary ranges for your role. And keep in mind that “secular” comparisons probably won’t be convincing to your senior pastor, executive pastor, or elder board.

What kind of data should you look for?

Find data that measures characteristics associated with your role. Especially look for information about qualities you excel in. Highlighting these items and their value in the church will help in future salary conversations.

Keep in mind that as a church’s size and budget increase, so does the base pay of its employees. So it’s important to look for salary information that gives you a breakdown on things like church size, budget, geographic setting, education level, years of experience, and full-time vs part-time work.

Don’t forget to factor in cost-of-living and median household income for your area. For example, similar roles and experiences in a large suburb of Chicago and a rural Mississippi farm-town will pay quite differently.

Important Side Note: After you’ve determined what fair pay looks like for your role, make sure it’s enough for your needs.

If your family has five kids, don’t make them eat rice and beans every night because you’re called to ministry. If you have a lot of student loan debt, don’t put off paying it each year so you can do the work you love.

There’s a difference between “fair pay” and “this is pay I can live with.” Pray about what you actually need, think about what sacrifices you are willing and not willing to make, and then come up with a minimum figure you (and your family) can live with. This will give you a threshold of pay that you need to get or you need to walk away – and it’s okay if you have to walk away from a position.

How should you start the conversation?

Have the courage to take what you’ve learned about salaries into a conversation with your supervisor or the hiring manager. Because you’ve done your homework, it’ll move the conversation from a subjective “I want to receive” to an objective “this is fair based on data.”

Keep in mind that fair pay includes salary, a housing allowance (if you qualify), and any other benefits, such as paid vacation or health insurance. Be sure to remember the value these benefits can add to your overall compensation package.

If the church has limited funds, see if you can get creative about your compensation together.

Are there other benefits like paid vacation or a housing allowance that might increase the overall compensation package? Can they offer free or reduced tuition for your children at the church’s school? Would the church agree to you working less hours to allow you to pursue a part-time job?

When you’re having these conversations always remember your church’s point of view. Is your church experiencing low attendance and giving? Are there other employees whose pay also needs to be raised? Give your church the same grace you want them to give you – don’t compromise your needs, but be willing to listen and work respectfully with the church you love.

As a worship leader, you are doing good and important work. Just like with other ministry positions, the church should reward your efforts with fair and adequate pay.

What churches will continue to find is that while it’s important to pay fairly, it is more important to create a culture of generosity in your church. And when this generosity is extended toward ministers, it releases them to be more effective in ministry. When church leaders can stop focusing on monthly bills and start focusing on how to make their ministry better, the church will live more fully into its mission to be salt and light to the world.

Samuel Ogles is the project leader for ChurchSalary, an online tool that helps churches and church workers determine fair pay.

That Worship Sound

Worshp Essentials

Function: Keyboard and Instrument Patches for MainStage, Logic,  Omnisphere, & Ableton Live

Overview: Since moving to Nashville I have heard one name recommended more than any other by veteran producers, artists, and even record label executives. That name is Abel Mendoza and his amazing company known as That Worship Sound.

While there are some Omnisphere and Ableton items, a majority of the product offerings are presets for a very popular program by Apple Computers known as MainStage. This program allows you to connect any, I repeat ANY, MIDI capable keyboard to a computer to access the thousands of sounds and presets included with your $29.99 purchase. As great as MainStage is, it is not specifically geared for worship leading. Enter the highly skilled team of sound designers at thatworshipsound.com where you can purchase pre-sets made to replicate the lush synthesizers, pianos, and ambient pads used so heavily in modern worship recordings.

First, the Worship Essentials pack is well, essential, and I have been using it personally for years. This simple collection of patches has covered 90% of all the worship songs we’ve done. It uses sounds already included with your MainStage purchase and best of all it just sounds amazing.

Then there are packs of presets available for a wide range of needs from Worship Pianos to Vintage Synthesizers. Abel and his team have the sounds grouped by style and bundles are well documented with demonstrations of each patch so you know what you’re getting ahead of time. Make sure to note that some packs require additional plug-ins, which are bits of software and sounds that are not included with MainStage.

Also, included in most bundles are presets for the Apple computer recording program Logic so you can produce and record with these sounds as well.
Lastly, I would also highly recommend the patch collection Elektrikcity which is designed for the electric guitar. A well-known producer told me about it and my recording life hasn’t been the same since.

More: Great sounds by people who are worship leaders. Priced right and designed to be easy to use.

Less: You have to run MainStage, which is pretty standard where I live but new to a lot of people elsewhere.

Bottom Line: You just gotta go check it out.

Worship Leader Job Description

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hat does it take to find that perfect career as a worship pastor? A job search is kind of like dating on-line where you present your profile qualities. In order to find your match, you need to know what you are looking for—that part is easy—and what churches are looking for—that part is a little harder. About a year ago; my church advertised in Worship Leader Magazine for a worship pastor. Here are five profile qualities that our board, with an average church attendance of 150, was looking for while interviewing a potential worship pastor candidate.

Spirituality. This was our first priority in a candidate. Many musicians with technical competence would do well as music teachers and they would be good worship leaders. However, they would not serve well as worship pastors because of their lack of spiritual depth. Before we started looking for a full-time worship pastor, we had two summer worship interns from a Christian college that demonstrated a spiritual maturity that they could pass on to others. They were 24/7 worshippers, not just when they were on stage. They loved God first and they loved people second. They didn’t manipulate emotions by repeating songs until people fell into a trance. They were very personable who liked to be around people.  

Dual Passions. The second quality that we were looking for was someone with two passions. Most churches in the U.S. are small to mid-size and cannot afford a full-time worship pastor. You can make yourself much more marketable if you develop a second passion in addition to worship. We were looking for a worship pastor who could also minister to teens. Some churches are looking for administrators, C.E. directors, small group pastors, etc. I talked to other lead pastors at conferences about my quest and they laughed at me saying, “If you find a person like that, you have found gold. They just aren’t out there.” One senior pastor whispered to me as if it was an FBI secret, “I found just the person you are looking for…but I hired him myself.”

Teachability. Our third priority in a candidate was a humble spirit, or teachability. We have seen churches hindered in many ways because they hired a head-strong worship pastor who was determined to do ministry “his way” without being submissive to the leadership. Some have been subversive enough to attempt to take over the church. We passed over many candidates who told us what they would do for us so that we could be just like their previous church. If you want to win mega-points with a church board, ask them about their church. Listen. Then, tell them how your spiritual gifts, talents and experience can meet their needs.

Initiative. A fourth quality that candidates need to show is initiative. If a church is looking to hire a worship pastor, most likely it is because they want to grow to the next level. They will be looking for someone who can organize their current worship teams, train up new musicians and pastor them toward spiritual maturity. The church may be looking to add service times which will require you to recruit and audition more musicians. Don’t expect that everything will be done for you. Even in a well-established church, a worship pastor has to constantly be equipping those under his or her care. In some churches, you might want to offer free or subsidized music lessons to develop a greater depth for your bench.

Versatility. A fifth quality involves “being all things to all men” (1 Corinthians 9:21). Most of the new worship songs are geared toward ministering to millennials. That is fine but do not forget that the church is a multi-generational family. We need to minister to everyone in the congregation in their own heart language, not just to one generational group. That is not an easy task! Some worship leaders only have one style. If you grew up singing hymns, expand your horizons and learn some new music. If you grew up with contemporary music, think retro and learn some hymns. One suggestion would be to become familiar with the top 25 hymns and the top 25 contemporary songs. Your future church might even have another category of songs written in the last 20 years. We do. If you play an instrument, you might consider adding to your repertoire by learning to play another one. Variety is the spice of life!

Closing Suggestions. What does it take to find that perfect career as a worship pastor? Well, to be honest, there are no perfect jobs! However, taking care to work these profile qualities into your job search should help you find a good fit for your calling, giftedness and skills. Happy church dating! May you find the right church for you where you can best be used by the LORD for His glory!

Alexander Zell is the Lead Pastor of Peoples Church, Geneva, OH and has been a C&MA pastor for over 25 years. He earned a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies and teaches for Crown College. He plays drums and bass guitar. He is married to Julie and they have three daughters.

What’s Your Worship Like?

It can be argued that worship leaders have the greatest impact on how our church is viewed in the community due to the fact that we often have the highest visibility.

When people are curious about a church, they typically don’t start by asking about the programs, the theology, or the preferred Bible translation. They may eventually get to those things, but that’s usually not what they ask about first.

The first question is usually about the music.

Here’s how one of those conversations usually goes:

“What church do you go to?”

“I go to Community Christian Church.”

“Oh! I’ve heard of that church before. What’s the worship like?”

And of course by asking what the worship is like, they are asking what the music is like. So to a degree, they are asking what you are like, worship leader because after all you are the one who plans the music. They are asking if your church does the hymnal thing or the Hillsong thing. They are asking if your church is choir driven or guitar driven. They are asking if the music is relatable to them and where they are at in life or not. They are asking if your music is ’80’s CCM or post-modern Jesus Punk Rock. In essence, they want to know if you sing songs they also like to sing.

Music can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, and music in church even more so. Some come ready to rock out on Sundays, and some prefer a Bach Cantata. The question for us is how we can best utilize feelings about music and worship to reach the community around us, grow the members of our church, and offer the best answer to the question of “what our worship is like.”

When newcomers walk into a church service on a Sunday morning, chances are their first impression will be based in large part on the music. The first person they hear speak from the front of the room will likely be the worship leader, and the first thing they see will be your worship team /choir / hipster Djembe guy. So what will the things they see and hear say about your church? What will these things say about Jesus?

Should we start by asking ourselves if one “style” of worship is better than another, and if so just how far should we go to make our music what we think people want?

The answer has nothing to do with style, marketing, surveys, or presentation. So many of us try way too hard to present the right look and the right sound, and so we warily wade into uncomfortable waters in order to reach a certain group or demographic that we feel we need to be reaching.

And that is the worst thing we can do.

People in today’s world, especially younger people, can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away, and trying to be a hip or relevant version of yourself will yield poor results just about every time.

It’s like that friend you had in school whose dad was trying to be the cool dad. I bet you remember that dad and you certainly don’t want to be that dad. It just doesn’t work. As a worship leader, you are who you are and you do what you do. Be who you are and do it the best you can to the glory of God. There is always room for growth, change, and learning, but only authentic growth and true unbridled worship will honor God and yield great results.

As Matt Redman once said so well, the heart of worship isn’t about the music anyway, it’s about Jesus being honored and lifted up. We need to find and use the best songs for our congregations, but true worship is more than a song.

It’s a sacrifice.

If that part is missing, it doesn’t matter how ‘relevant’ we think we are. We are no longer worship leaders, but noisy gongs and clanging cymbals; nothing more than weekend performers in a Chris Tomlin cover band.

After all, worship is not about music. Worship is not about a set list.

Worship is about Jesus.

Worship is about bowing our hearts and minds and families and jobs and cares and worries before the Almighty Creator of all things and saying we trust Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

Worship is about bringing honor and glory and thanks to Him who gave all for us.

Worship is exhortation and praise, and it is a prayer born of the deepest longings of the heart.

Worship is the very Words of God set to a melody and shared amongst us.

If we are doing things right, a personal daily walk with Jesus will yield worship focused on Christ and not on the songs we select, and worship will become infectious and empowering to your church; a highlight of every week. Set your mind on things that are above, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and your worship music will truly become more than a song.

“So, what is the worship at your church like?”

“Our worship is about Jesus and nothing but Jesus. That’s what it’s like.”

Jason Soroski serves as a worship pastor at Parkway Fellowship in Katy, TX. When not strumming his guitar or composing at his computer, he can usually be found out on a crazy adventure with his beautiful wife Jana and their five amazing children. Connect on Twitter @soroski.

Getting Your Band to Show Up On Time

Question: I have two volunteers on my worship team who are always late for rehearsal and pre-service soundcheck. Every week I send emails reminding everyone about the call time, yet these two routinely walk in 10 to 15 minutes late and act like it’s no big deal. To further complicate matters, these two latecomers are pretty good musicians. They rarely mess up during the service, or if they do, very few in the congregation even notice. However, every rehearsal I’m sitting on pins and needles waiting for them to show up. During the service, I’m a wreck, anxiously hoping we don’t mess up. I love these two musicians, but it’s extremely frustrating to work with them.

Answer: If punctuality is important to you, make sure you’ve communicated that to everyone. I used to get mad every time volunteers showed up late until I realized that I had never strongly voiced my expectation. Remind team members often that punctuality is an important team value.

Also, be sure to tell them why it’s important to show up on time for rehearsals and events. Punctuality is a basic human courtesy. It demonstrates respect and consideration for others. When someone is chronically late, it sends a subtle message that other people’s time is not as important as his or her personal schedule.

It’s also demoralizing for those who worked especially hard to be on time. I’ve seen volunteers skip dinner, cancel conflicting appointments, or ask a spouse to come home early from work to watch the kids so they could make rehearsal on time. To work hard to be prompt, and then have to sit and wait for latecomers to arrive can be very discouraging. No matter how talented people are, it eventually wears thin if their lack of punctuality becomes a habit.

Punctuality is a sign of commitment, the mark of a true servant. After all, people tend to arrive on time for that which is important to them. Newcomers learn very quickly about a team’s values simply by observing. If they witness others being punctual, they’ll conclude that rehearsal is vital preparation for leading others in worship, and is to be taken seriously.

Being punctual also makes for a better rehearsal, which in turn produces a better worship service. Top-notch musicians need to be reminded that even though they may not think they need rehearsal, the team as a whole needs their participation in order to adequately rehearse. It’s difficult for the band, the singers, and the sound engineer to do their jobs well if someone is missing. The way I see it, if an individual is two minutes late, that’s two minutes less rehearsal. That may not sound like much at first. However, two minutes is half a song. How often do we get to the end of a soundcheck and wish we could go through a certain chorus, verse, or transition one more time? Sometimes two minutes of rehearsal is all that’s needed to alleviate performance anxiety and avoid a mishap during the service. I’d rather have the worship team relaxed as they head into a service, focused on song lyrics and the Lord, instead of worrying about messing up.

Since you’re the leader, I would encourage you to clearly define punctuality for your team. To me, if rehearsal begins at 7:00 that means we’re in our seats ready to go at 7:00, not pulling into the church parking lot or setting up the drum kit at that time. Also, make sure you start rehearsal promptly, run it efficiently, and end on time. I tell volunteers that if they show up on time, I promise to end on time.

No matter how adamant you are about punctuality, you still might have a few people who think they can get away with being late. Don’t let them. Lovingly confront any Johnny-come-latelies privately every time they break the rules. You don’t have to read them the riot act. Simply ask, “Are you okay? Is there a reason you were late? Were you aware of our call time?” If you make a big deal about punctuality but fail to hold people accountable, they’ll conclude you really don’t mean it.

What about you? How do you make sure your team shows up on time? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

Find out more about Rory Noland, here.

Is the Choir Dead?

This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (May 2007). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.

Over the past 20 years of my life, it has been my privilege to have traveled extensively and worship at hundreds of churches. I’ve had the joy of singing in and/or conducting choirs of all ages, shapes and sizes, from virtually every evangelical denomination, in a wide variety of settings. Some of the smaller groups have ranged in size from 6 to 12 people, while the larger ones have ranged from 150 to 300 in number. I’ve worked with singers in open-air worship services on the remote hillsides of the Dominican Republic. I’ve conducted mass choirs in expansive coliseums from coast-to-coast. From places as elaborate and celebrated as the Sun Dome in Phoenix, Arizona, and Westminster Cathedral in London, England, to other places not quite so renown like the backyard of a HIV hospice home in Washington D.C. and the sanctuary of Whispering Hills Church of the Nazarene (where I currently am serving my eighth year as part-time worship pastor, in Brentwood, Tennessee), I have seen the hand of God move in profound ways through the worship and ministry of a choir.

The concept of empowering and equipping choirs for worship is nothing new. In 1 Chronicles, we learn that King David commissioned 288 Levite music leaders for the dedication of the temple. If there were 288 conductors, just consider how innumerable the singers must have been. Later in Ezra, we learn that King Nebuchadnezzar took into captivity the 128 descendants of Asaph, all gifted singers commissioned for the rebuilding of the temple. Furthermore, Nehemiah proclaimed, regarding the dedication of the temple wall, “I also assigned two large choirs to give thanks.” In Psalm 68:24-25, David gives us a clear picture of worship in the sanctuary when he pens, “Your procession has come into view, O God, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary. In front are the singers…” (NIV).

In the Now

Some of you are undoubtedly thinking, “With all due respect to our Levite brothers and sisters, it is the year 2007 and we are not living in the days of brass cymbals, harps, lyres and lutes.” I could not agree more wholeheartedly. Old Testament practices are long gone and are widely viewed as ritualistic. The New Covenant does certainly abolish certain ancient traditions and provide access for all to the throne room of the Almighty. It is important, however, to acknowledge that when God gave King David an inspired and concise vision for the building and establishment of His temple, He was clearly expressing His desire to hear the praises of the assembly. Something uniquely touches the heart of the Creator when singers join together in songs of praise to Him, regardless of the time or place.

In more recent years, the role of a choir in worship has become somewhat distorted by the continually evolving world of Christian music. Due to the rise in popularity of “modern worship music” over the course of the past decade, the Church is finding itself in an interesting predicament. The template for worship leadership, if you will, suggested by Christian pop culture of the present day, is that of a sole worship leader, accompanied by no more than a handful of vocalists, as well as a small number of instrumentalists. Please do not misinterpret my intentions. I am all for commitment to a sense of cultural relevance. Moreover, I avidly participate in the furtherance of Christian music as a professional and consumer. I am merely stating that, when weighed against the responsibility of a music minister to equip, empower and exercise the numerous gifts within any given community of faith, the current popular face of worship in America has, unfortunately, left little room for choirs.

Lessons from the Field

I am a fan of professional football and try to attend at least one Tennessee Titans game each season. Every time I have joined the tens of thousands gathered at LP Field, I have been dumbfounded by the impact that the thunderous, indivisible cheering and rave can contribute toward victory in any given contest. It is quite obvious that practically every fan in the stadium has a favorite player or two on the field. In most cases, it is the admiration and respect for one or two players’ accomplishments that has motivated a fan to shell out $50 for a seat. At halftime, the field is cleared and the cheerleaders are given their two-minute moment to shine. It is curious to me that very few people realize that cheerleaders have been actively involved in the game from kickoff. The megaphones and glittering pom-poms intended to inspire the crowd have often been tucked away in a corner beyond the end zone—for all practical purposes, virtually unseen. It causes one to wonder, “Why are the cheerleaders even there?”

Perhaps the choir has become a similarly inconspicuous group of cheerleaders. Has the role of the choir become the somewhat gratuitous and seemingly disconnected five-minute “tip of the hat” toward singers in your church? Could it be that they simply need to be rediscovered? Is it possible that the choir is suffering from a generational identity crisis?

Sound the Cry

Throughout God’s Word, we find that the role of the singer within the Church has clearly been to sound the cry of, “Victory!” at the head of the charge in times of war and unrest. This mission is clear and present. I would suggest to you that every worship leader, minister of music and pastor should assemble singers on a weekly basis for the purpose of worship leadership. The song of victory must be proclaimed with unbridled jubilation.

Exuberant and purposeful praise makes a difference for people who find themselves overwhelmed by the battle that will rage on until our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, returns. Sitting in our worship centers each week are people who are hurting, downtrodden, diseased, broken, depressed, overworked, confused, misled, riddled with guilt, afraid, anxious, hopeless, lost, questioning, searching, longing and even doubtful of God’s existence. Nothing confounds and disarms the enemy more than collective, unified, authentic and resounding praises pouring forth from the hearts and lips of people as they worship and glorify God, the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.

May we never forget, as well, that God inhabits—lives and breathes in, encamps about, infuses, permeates, impregnates, clarifies, purifies, emboldens, incites, quickens and moves within—our praise. As we glorify Him, we are ushered into the living active presence of Almighty God, and His Spirit sweeps over us as a consuming fervency of resurrection power. Arriving at such a place of intimacy with the Lord is, of course, what we are pursuing as worshipers.

Clear Signal

It has been my experience that when a person who is leading in worship has developed a dynamic and thriving relationship with God, the evidence of such authentic communion is literally visible to the congregation—the presence of God is communicable.

The manifestation of God’s Spirit within one person’s experience is powerful and leaves us amazed, certainly beckoning response. Likewise, the revelation of the Father’s presence within the experience of multiple lives leaves us immeasurably awestruck and undeniably ruined. This understanding necessitates an even greater sense of responsibility, I believe, for the spiritual leaders of our churches to equip and empower numbers of people for the role of collective worship leadership.

So, in 2007, when Christian radio seems to have a prevailing influence over the stylistic preference of most churchgoers—while hymns, Gospel songs and inspirational anthems of yesteryear are being described by many as increasingly culturally irrelevant—what do we do with the choir? Does it find its place in the archives of ministry among other historical “flavor of the day” fads like flannel graph Sunday School lessons in the 1940-50s, church bussing in the 1970s, or overhead projection transparencies of lyrics for congregational singing in the 1980s?

My personal answer to this question is: re-birth the choir. Give it new life. Rediscover the value of its existence in your church and community. In fact, the choir can actually be a great church growth catalyst for you. Choir members have family members. It stands to reason that if singers are given an opportunity in your church to use their gifts in an ongoing and active way, their families may want to join them in attendance and membership.

Undercover

Moreover, because of the universally amiable power of music, a choir can take the gospel of Jesus Christ to a variety of non-threatening locations and present it in an ingenuous manner. For example, it is a common occurrence for a choir to give a concert in a shopping mall, sing a few songs before a local baseball game, provide an inspirational worship experience at a compassionate ministries center, or even sing for a state government function. All of these examples and many more are opportunities afforded to choirs simply because of the power of music in society.

The choir is yet another great place for people to find a sense of belonging within your church. Interpersonal connectivity will continue to be an ongoing challenge for ministries in a post-modern society. Bear in mind that, within this small musical subculture of your congregation exists yet another small group structure. Each voice section (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) can be viewed as a small group entity of the larger choral family. If harvested properly, there is a very ripe opportunity for care, prayer, accountability, spiritual formation and biblical teaching to be born indigenously out of each and every rehearsal.

Worth the Work

Candidly speaking, yes there is some extra work involved here. Trust me: as a part-time, bi-vocational minister of music, I share in the pangs associated with countless additional hours of planning, searching for, buying and distributing new resources (not to mention the, often times, even more arduous process of equipping and rehearsing yet another group of people). The “job” of a worship leader/pastor is much easier to carry out if all that is required from an administrative and rehearsal perspective is preparing rhythm charts for 4-6 people, encouraging a team of 3-6 singers to download a short list of songs from iTunes and gathering 30-60 minutes before a worship service for a quick run-through. I am familiar with the drill. But the resulting community found in a choir and seeing the power of unified voices leading worship for your congregation makes it worth the work you put into it.

As long as God has a Church, the choir does not have to be a dusty trophy on a shelf. Alongside and in concert with the worship leader with a twelve-string guitar, praise team and instrumentalists, there is a place for the choir—a new place, perhaps a more creative and yet undiscovered place. History has proven this fact time and again: if there is a new song to sing, somebody’s going to sing it. As publishers, writers, arrangers and leaders, let us renew our commitment to the choir and chase what God has for the future. I believe we can do so with a sense of commitment to, and respect for, the past, all the while anchored by the mission and calling that God’s Word has provided.

Craig Adams is Manager of Creative Development, A&R, and Publishing LifeWay Worship Throughout his 30+ years of experience, Craig has produced artist recordings, concept recordings, instrumental recordings, radio commercials, audio for video, printed anthems, collections, and musicals for Church music publishers, as well as a handful of live music events.

The Invisible Band

I remember hearing one time about a worship band that liked to perform in the dark. They would take the stage, turn all of the lights off and play. The motivation behind this unusual approach was to (literally) take the spotlight off of themselves in order to place it on God.

When I first heard about this unusual practice, I initially thought it was a little strange. After all, there are actually people up on a stage playing instruments and singing. What is the point of pretending they aren’t there? Couldn’t you just as well play some recorded music and achieve a similar result? While I completely understand the attitude behind this approach to leading worship, there is also a part of me that wonders what our place as creative people and artist is, if not to create artistic expressions of worship. If we are performers, this must somehow entail performance.

I know that word tends to have a very taboo connotation to it in the church these days. We as worship leaders and musicians don’t want to be accused of performing because it somehow seems to imply that the attention is on us. In some sense, that may be true. One definition of performance is ”an act of staging or presenting a play, concert, or other form of entertainment” according to the dictionary. Another definition, though, is to “carry out an act” as in to “perform” a duty. In other words, we can perform a service to the church by playing an instrument, singing, teaching children, taking out the trash, etc.

We’ve all seen the extreme. I will be the first to say that when someone who is leading worship seems to be motivated by attention or is conveying something less than an attitude of humility it can be distracting and off-putting. But therein lies the struggle of every creative that wants to serve the body and use the beauty the Creator has woven into him or her.

It’s perplexing and complex. I have often struggled with how to find balance in the weightiness of this responsibility.

Many years ago I was serving on a worship team as a lead guitar player. When the worship leader I was serving under, who happened to be a very good friend, asked me to stop playing guitar solos because he felt our team needed to be a little less showy, I was more than a little resentful. In other seasons, I have perhaps swung a little too far the other way in an effort to be more invisible as a worship leader or team member.

The key for me is the heart. What is my attitude when I find myself in that seemingly awkward position of stepping onto a platform under lights with an instrument with the goal of giving glory to someone greater than myself?

I love the story Jesus tells in Matthew 25 of the master who went on a journey and entrusted his servants with his own riches. The faithful servants used what they were entrusted with and multiplied what they were given by faithfully using it as if it were their own. Their reward was not the profit their master’s money earned. (That multiplied treasure also belonged to the master.) Their reward was that they had shown themselves faithful and proven their trustworthiness and, therefore, were trusted with more.

In the same way, the treasure we are entrusted with does not belong to us. Nor does the fruit of it. The greatest reward for a servant is to be trusted by his Lord. If we get too caught up in the temporary satisfaction of our own glory, we miss out on the true joy that we can have when we don’t own the treasure or the glory it brings. Our job is to perform our faithful act of service to the one who gives and receives the glory.

Whether your worship team believes in guitar solos or not or performs with the lights on or off, the point is not to be invisible or visible. It’s simply to reflect.

Eric Heinrichs is a worship leader in Southern California. For more information or to connect with him please visit worshiptones.org.

The (Real) Reason Why Your Worship Team Members Don’t Practice

The Excuses
What are the reasons why your team doesn’t practice? The number one excuse you and I hear from our team members is this: I’m just so busy. That’s hands-down the biggest one. But what are some other excuses?

I don’t need to …
This person feels like they’re good enough to wing it. They might be hitting the notes that fit in the key, but you and I both know they’re not really playing what they should be playing.

I didn’t know …
This excuse comes from a person who somehow didn’t know what songs were planned for Sunday or couldn’t find the charts/recordings for the song.

I don’t care …
This one is rarely directly verbalized. But it’s demonstrated by the actions of the person who shows up unprepared and doesn’t even bother to offer an excuse.

So with these excuses, it’s easy to assume you have a bunch of uncommitted, arrogant, ignorant slackers on your team, right? You might be thinking, Whoa, I wouldn’t go that far. You might not. But I did.

I used to assume that my team just didn’t care and weren’t committed (or worse). But then I learned there was a bigger reason why they didn’t practice enough: It was me and my leadership.

A Critical Leadership Lesson
One of the most critical leadership lessons I’ve ever learned is this: Every people problem can be traced to a system problem. (By the way, thanks, Andy Stanley.)

What do I mean by that? Here’s an example:
If I have some meathead electric guitarist who Metal Zone-shreds through EVERY song, he’s not truly the problem.

Part of the problem is the qualification process that allowed him on the team. And my musician development system that helps people understand their roles and responsibilities is clearly not working well. And my system for offering feedback or doing formal reviews for my team members also isn’t helping this situation.

Do you see the difference? It’s fantastically freeing. When I have people problems I’m stuck as a leader. I have little or no control over the situation (other than to remove people from the team or endure their behavior).

But if I change the lens and view people problems as system problems, I flip the switch from stuck victim to empowered leader. I can do something about it. So, back to the non-practicing issue. It’s easy to see the people problems: busy, uncommitted, arrogant, ignorant, etc. But what are the systems that are allowing that behavior? Here are a few.

6 Systems That Can Promote Great Practice Habits

  1. Qualification Process
    Does your system for qualifying new team members communicate upfront that there’s an expectation of practice? Does it require potential musicians to prepare for their audition?
  1. Clear Expectations and Accountability
    Do you have a team handbook, covenant or some other document that clearly defines preparation expectations? If our standards aren’t clear, we can’t hold people to them.
  1. Rehearsals
    Do you run your rehearsals in such a way that encourages practice ahead of time and discourages people from showing up unprepared? One way to use your rehearsal to promote personal practice is by moving along at a pace that requires people to have learned the song before they arrived.

    If someone realizes they’re not as prepared as the rest of the team, that’s a good thing. A little healthy social pressure isn’t bad. Because as a team, we’re all affected by each other’s behaviors and attitudes.

    Now, there will be times when the ideal pace of rehearsal needs to give way to the current state of the team. But those situations can be redeemed as become teachable moments.

  1. Music Planning and Distribution
    Your system for planning and distributing music is crucial to your team’s personal practice. If your rehearsal is Thursday and they don’t get the music until Tuesday, that’s not giving them ample prep time.
  1. Active Song Rotation
    Do you create your Sunday worship sets from a giant list of songs? If every set contains multiple songs that your team hasn’t played in six months or a year, they’ll be bogged down in relearning, rather than reviewing and refreshing.

    (And bonus: if you rotate fewer songs more often, your church will know and sing out more, too.)

  1. Training
    The last system I want to touch on is training. One of the mistakes I made as a leader was to assume my musicians knew how to practice or even why it was important. So we need to have a system that trains our team members on why personal preparation is crucial for leading worship and how to get songs ready for rehearsal and Sunday. If you’d like a tool to help teach your team why practice matters along with some tips on how to practice, go to getpracticing.com and you can get free access to Get Practicing: Team Member Training Kit. It includes a video training, tip sheets and a discussion guide to help you get your team to prepare better.

Wrap Up
The bottom line for this is that we need to assume the best of our team members—even when they act like slackers. The next time a person shows up unprepared, step back and ask, What system problem is allowing this people problem?

Jon Nicol is a worship pastor in Lexington, Ohio and is the founder of WorshipTeamCoach.com, a resource that helps worship leaders develop strong teams and lead engaging worship. He likes having spontaneous dance parties with his wife and four kids during the end credits of whatever movie they’ve just been watching.

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