The ability to bring dynamic worship to your church is not a great mystery. It comes from meeting the challenges that lie at the core of what congregational worship is intended to be and addressing the unhealthy predispositions and expectations we bring into the worship environment. How do we do that?
Dynamic worship can only be fully realized and experienced in an environment that is safe and nurturing. The members of our leadership teams and our congregation must feel comfortable and unafraid in order to really release themselves into the worship of God. However, in this fast paced, good is not good enough culture in which we live, it is easy to create a worship environment that intimidates rather than encourages. How we deal with mistakes and the unexpected in our worship services contributes greatly to the sense of security needed to encourage dynamic participation.
What happens during and/or after your service when a mistake is made by leaders?
We have all been there:
- The pastor walks out to deliver the sermon and the microphone is not on, will not work, or the ultimate—dead batteries!
- The song slides are late being changed or—they are last week’s songs!
- The band forgot that the road map was V C V C C B C and instead starts playing the bridge after the second chorus. Musical confusion ensues.
- The guitar player starts the song—without a capo! We all know how that ends.
- Insert your epic worship leading fail here . . .
It can feel like a worship tragedy.” How could we make such a huge mistake? So what if everyone is a volunteer and they all have real lives to contend with outside of church. This was worship! Don’t they understand how important that is?” Have those thoughts ever crossed your mind? Worse, have those words ever crossed your lips? As bible believing Christians, we should be very aware that while perfection may be a worthy goal, it is not attainable this side of heaven. What can be received is God’s forgiveness and grace. So why then do many Christian leaders not practice the same forgiveness and grace with their teams? I understand that chronic mistakes need to be addressed. Unfortunately, I have seen too many times where first time errors are treated as unpardonable sins. I have even seen leaders try to use scripture to justify their unreasonable expectations of constant and total perfection.
The reality is that mistakes happen, regardless of the amount of preparation or skill of the person. To keep truth and reality available for reference when confronted by someone who thinks every service should be perfect, I frequently watch live awards shows on television and keep a tally and description of the mistakes that are made. And there can be many! My reasoning is that if the best professionals in the entertainment industry, with years of experience combined with hours and hours of preparation and planning can make sometimes glaring mistakes, then how can we, with a clear conscious, hold our volunteers and even paid personnel to higher standards? It makes no sense and yet these, instant, unforgiving, sometimes very public recriminations, happen over and over again in churches across the country.
I believe that a dynamic worship experience begins with an understanding and expectation of the fact that everyone is bringing their very best to the worship experience. Sometimes our very best on a particular day falls short of where it may be on another day. I want my team (leaders, players, and operators) to be unafraid of the mistakes, leading loose and ready to bring our praises to God. They know that mistakes may happen and we will address those in the proper context. However, the initial response to a mistake will always be God’s response: grace and forgiveness.
So what does that mean to a congregation?
We are worship leaders and the congregation is watching us. How we respond to mistakes informs them not only how they should respond to mistakes, but also to how they may be received if they make a mistake. Chewing out the sound person in the middle of the service (and yes, I have seen this happen more than once by other leaders) tells the congregation that it is ok to do the same outside of the service. However, what it also does is make the congregation think, “What if I make a mistake?” When the guitar player starts the song in the wrong key and the whole thing comes crashing down for a restart, how the worship leader handles that informs the congregation of how they should feel about their own “musical inadequacies.” I think not enough worship leaders realize what a huge risk many congregation members feel they are taking when they sing in public every week. Many of these people have been told at some point in their lives that they should NEVER sing in public by someone who they trust and who should know better, such as a school music teacher or even a parent. (If you don’t believe me, just ask a few of them some time) Whether it represents how we truly feel about our congregation’s participation or not, how we deal publicly and sometimes even privately with mistakes in the band or other areas of leadership tells the congregation how they can expect we would react to their own mistakes each week. Lack of grace and forgiveness, especially in public, can quickly quash the relationship needed for dynamic worship as people quit participating for fear of not being perfect.
If we want dynamic worship, then we must create a safe environment for a free and authentic exchange of expressions of worship in our services. This may sometimes be messy, but it is real and true to our relationship with each other and with our God. Next up, dynamic worship is surrounded.
Dr. Craig Gilbert is an experienced worship leader who is passionate about all aspects of congregational worship. With a graduate degree in conducting and a “road degree” playing in bands, Craig brings a love of all musical styles to his worship planning. In his 20 years of church worship ministry Craig has served in churches of all types, sizes and worship models. He has been blessed to serve with pastors of all types as well; even a Catholic priest! Craig is the founder of the worship renewal ministry TheWorshipDoctor.com.
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Dr. Craig Gilbert, a consultant and coach fondly known as The Worship Doctor, is the founder of Purposed Heart Ministries, a worship renewal and education program for all churches. Craig 25 years as a music and worship minister working with choirs, bands, and various artistic groups while leading and designing worship in churches of all sizes and styles. Now he spends his time helping churches across the country imagine what worship could and should be in their local context and then helps them get there!