Three ways to engage the congregation

People want to know what to expect when they attend a church service.

They want to know if they need to sit or stand or if they are welcome to move around. If they don’t know what to do, they won’t engage easily and freely in corporate worship.

Here are three things that we can do as worship teams to create a level of comfort for the congregation and engage them in the worship experience.

Give clear vocal cues.

People in the congregation probably don’t know what your hand signals to the instrumentalists and audio/video team mean. If you circle a finger, your worship team may know what to do, but the congregation may not understand the gesture. They may wonder if they are supposed to sing the chorus again or another verse.

A great vocal leader not only cues the worship team and audio/video team for direction in a song, but they also will cue the congregation. When I prepare to lead, I look for phrases or key words at the beginning of a verse, bridge, chorus, etc. I’ll sing or say those short, simple words just before we’re going to sing them together. For example, I’ll sing something like this: “In all the world,” or “Oh how marvelous,” or “Your Name is higher,” etc.—whatever phrase or word that most easily will convey what we’re going to sing next.

If I’m giving a vocal cue to the video team because they can’t see me for some reason, I may say, “Let’s sing verse 1 again.” This helps the congregation as well.

Post the words on a screen or wall before it’s time to sing them.

If a person in the congregation doesn’t know the words to the song you’re singing, they will be frustrated if the words to the song only appear as you are singing them. It’s most thoughtful to put the words on the screen just before it’s time to sing them, not two beats after.

I recommend that your video team practice displaying song words as they hear you rehearsing each song until they can smoothly display song words in a way that’s best for the congregation.

In essence, the video team is leading worship just as much as you are as a musician.

Tell the congregation what to do during an instrumental break.

First, ask yourself why you are doing an instrumental break. If it’s for the purpose of showing a musician’s skill or simply because that’s how another band performed it, then the people’s attention will be on the musicians and not on God.

Ask yourself what do you want people to do during that time when they aren’t singing? Tell them that or better yet, lead them in that. If you want them to participate in the instrumental break by shouting praise to God, then invite them to do so. If you want them to be contemplative and reverent, then let them know that the break is a great place to do that. You can give instruction easily by saying something like, “Let’s think about what God has done for us,” or “Let’s shout out how good God is!”

Also, singers should be coached to continue to lead during an instrumental break. If they just lower their mics and don’t vocally lead in the shout or contemplation or singing of Hallelujah etc., the congregation will wonder why you’ve told them to engage and yet the singers are standing there with their eyes closed. When they’re on the platform, singers are leaders, not simply worshipers.

It’s like the guy next to me in church once said, “I wish I knew what to do.” With a little communication from the worship team, we can all participate and experience the blessing of corporate worship.

How can I get the team to understand me?

Pastoring isn’t easy.

Pastors feel the weight of the church, the ministry outreach, and people’s concerns. Their responsibilities are multi-faceted and often require them to mentally jump from one extreme of thought to another, from an architect’s drawings for a church remodel over to the youth ministry report and then to what is needed to help a family in crisis.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the communication disconnect between pastors and worship teams from the team’s perspective. You can read that post here. I suggested some areas that the team could talk about with the pastor to create understanding.

When I hold worship clinics, working with a church’s worship team(s), pastors make comments or ask me questions that seem to have a common theme: the pastor doesn’t know how to get the team to musically meet a need or initiative that the pastor sees. Here is one of those questions.

Why can't the worship leader seem to understand me when I try to tell them that I want more songs that are encouraging?

If you are a pastor who is a skilled musician, it’s easier to understand how to communicate with the worship leader. You won’t simply communicate your vision for the praise and worship time, you will know how to speak the unique language of music and you will have an understanding of what’s current in Christian worship music.

If you are not a skilled musician, then in between your bites of bagel as you rush to the hospital to see a church member, you won’t think about the nuances of music and what are the newest worship songs. You will just want the team to actually engage the congregation and create an opportunity where everyone is encouraged and can focus on God. So when you are back at the church office, you stop by the worship pastor’s office or you call the worship leader and say, “Hi, I just want to say that this coming Sunday I’m going to talk about ______, could you make the songs more encouraging?” That type of general statement is not completely clear.

Unclear communication can be the biggest hindrance to a great flow between the pastor and the team.

Instead, you may want to say, “This coming Sunday is a pivotal point in my teaching series on _____. I’m going to cover the concept of ______, and I would like you to start the service with a song that focuses on God’s goodness and faithfulness in that area. Do you and the team have anything like that? If possible, I would like a song that is fast instead of something slow and contemplative.”

That’s good communication. The direction is clearly stated, and the opportunity for a response from the worship leader will create better understanding between both of you.

Pastors, I recommend that you take the time to privately talk to the worship team as a group. Openly tell them what it’s like to be you, because they don’t know. They aren’t pastors so they don’t understand what you juggle each day. Then allow them to talk to you. Give them the opportunity to tell you how they feel and what they wish you understood.

Then pray together for wisdom from God for the church. Your worship team should have a regular prayer time together either at the beginning or end of their practice time, and if you are open with them about the church and its direction, they can be a prayer support team for you and the church.

 As I’ve said before, great communication helps relationships flourish.

It's not about you

Someone once said to me, “Why don’t you take a job as a worship pastor at that church? It would give you exposure for your ministry.” My response was, “Ministry isn’t about me. It’s not my ministry. What I do and say is supposed to represent and point to Jesus Christ.”

Ministry is not about you promoting yourself. I say this phrase in every worship clinic: It’s not about you. We have to understand that worship of God is exactly that: it is worship of God.  When we get together to rejoice about what God has done and to sing about Him, it’s not about us.

As singers or instrumentalists, we facilitate an opportunity for corporate worship. We’re not entertainers; it’s not a club or a concert, so we shouldn’t be drawing attention to ourselves or performing. When we lead worship, we have the honor of directing attention to God—how amazing He is, how impactful are His actions, and how interactive is His purpose.

A desire to honor God and focus on who He is in worship cannot happen if our focus is on making a name for ourselves, promoting our ministry. Ministry is an opportunity to serve our Father God and people, just as Jesus did, with self-sacrifice and demonstrated love.

It’s not about you and me; it’s about Him.

Walking away is not an option

What do you do when conflict happens in the team?

You know, someone says something that offends someone else, and hurt feelings divide the unity that you all have worked to establish. The easy thing is to walk away from the relationship or to walk away from the team if you were the person who was offended. You could just quit, give up on everything you’ve built and ignore the fact that God called you to be on that team with those people to demonstrate the unity He created in the Church through Jesus Christ.

We should ask for forgiveness if we have offended someone, but asking for forgiveness is not just saying, “I’m sorry,” because that could mean I’m sorry that you were offended, not I’m sorry for what I said or did.  When I make a mistake and say something that creates offense, I will apologize by saying, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I was wrong in saying what I said. Will you please forgive me?”

We all want to make excuses and defend our actions. “Well, I wasn’t feeling well” or “I was distracted or stressed,” etc. Maybe you didn’t feel well or you were distracted, but people are valuable and precious, and your relationship with them is important enough for you to swallow your pride and admit you were wrong and careless with your words.

If you were the person who was offended, you have the opportunity to follow the scripture that says we should walk in love (Ephesians 5:1-2) and to act like God who loved us even when we were not a part of His family (Ephesians 2:4).

Holding on to hurt is a choice. There is freedom in forgiving others.

When we refuse to forgive or we refuse to ask for forgiveness, and we choose to remain on the worship team, the resulting disunity can be sensed by the congregation during worship. They will sense that something is wrong; it’s off.

Walking away from the team because you are hurt or because someone is offended with what you’ve said is not an option. You’ll just be carrying the issue with you until it’s resolved. Deal with it, resolve the conflict and follow Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:3 to preserve the unity of the Spirit.

Your relationships within the team are some of the best relationships that you’ll have anywhere, and they are worth preserving.

Why doesn't my pastor understand me?

Pastors and worship teams often have a disconnect.

Some pastors are not musicians and do not understand the amount of creativity needed to fully develop song arrangements, musical productions, and great flow in a set list. Then you add the time required for rehearsals, communication, mentoring/lessons, research of new songs, and more. As a worship leader, you’re tired by the end of Sunday services, and you’re mentally exhausted.

I’ve worked with pastors who like to critique worship sets following the service. That’s not a good time to speak to a creative person. Also, creatives don’t always handle criticism, or at times direction, well.

So pastors complain that they feel like they’re walking on eggshells around their worship leader or around team members, unable to refine the direction they feel is appropriate or needed or wanted for a worship time in a service. And, worship leaders often have their own vision instead of embracing God’s vision for the church and determining how the worship ministry fits into that vision.

What can we do to better communicate with our pastor?

First, ask the pastor what is God’s vision for the church and how does the pastor see that vision enacted in the service, particularly during times of praise/worship/music.

Second, ask the pastor if there are specific musical styles that they like or do not like.

Third, ask the pastor how much time you have in leading worship during a service, and does that apply to all services or are there different parameters for the different types of services held at the church or sponsored by the church in the community.

Fourth, ask the pastor what they expect in team member’s musical skill.

Fifth, ask the pastor what they expect in team member’s personal lives, for example, does the pastor disprove of drinking or smoking, etc. Ask the pastor to clearly communicate those expectations.

Sixth, tell the pastor what is on your heart regarding worship ministry in the church. Ask the pastor whether that meshes with what they’ve determined is the direction of the church.

Seventh, ask the pastor to communicate any frustration they have had with the team in general or with individual team members, or with areas of the worship ministry.

Then pray together and ask God to show you areas where you can tighten your relationship and communication.

Great communication helps relationships flourish.

What qualifies you to be a worship leader?

What qualifies you to be a worship leader?

What's necessary to be a great worship leader? Simply stated: spiritual maturity, leadership ability, and musical skill. Those things require development and a continual attitude of learning and service to others.

So how do you get there?

Leading worship is a part of the ministry of helps/service mentioned in Romans 12:7. You are helping the local church, assisting in fulfilling God's vision for that church, and facilitating opportunities for believers to worship corporately.

Worship-leading is something that God calls you to do; it's something that God will show you that He wants you to do. He gives you the raw talent and He directs the most impactful way to use it if you will allow Him to do so. Of course God expects us to seek Him on timing, location, and the rest of the details of His direction so we're at the right place at the right time with the right people. When you know that God wants you to lead worship, that knowledge will sustain you when it becomes difficult and you face challenges with people and resources.

A worship leader should be a strong singer with musical skills that can be used to develop the team and young musicians, to inspire creative musical arrangements, and to thoughtfully select songs that will engage the congregation. Relying on raw musical talent is not enough; it's important to develop that talent. Here are some questions regarding musical skills: Can you read music? Can you write music or create an arrangement? Can you sing in tune? Can you communicate musically with other instrumentalists to convey your vision for a team, a worship set, and a worship service?

And then there are the characteristics of a leader: the ability to communicate, faithfulness, a commitment to the local church's vision, the desire to continually learn and grow, the ability to inspire and lead, and a compassion for people. Also necessary are confidence on the platform/stage, and the experience necessary to lead the team through the worship experience.

When someone senses that God is inspiring them to lead worship, I recommend that some strategic development occur in the areas listed above. In the past, I've given worship-leading opportunities to young musicians—opportunities within the church where they can use the skills they've developed. The local church should be a training ground, and with some thought, people can be encouraged, taught, developed, and released into ministry.

So where are you in this? Have you prepared yourself as a leader spiritually and musically? Are you in the right place at the right time with the right people?

Growth is a part of life, and we are all continuing to adjust and learn. That's what makes life rich and ministry exciting.

Did you intend to downshift?

Did you intend to downshift?

Have you ever been in a worship service where you're fully engaged, totally focused on God, singing to Him about how amazing He is, and then the worship leader starts the next song, which is in reality a call to worship? A song that says something like let's celebrate, or come and worship, or come bless the Lord.

It feels like you're downshifting from 60 mph to 15 mph. You already were worshiping God. Why would the worship leader then give a call to worship if you already were worshiping?

We need to pay attention to the flow of words in our set lists. A call to worship belongs at the beginning of a set, not in the middle of the set after our attention has been placed fully on God in adoration of who He is.

Another way in which we downshift and step out of that sweet spot in worship is when we sing about ourselves. Songs that focus on you and me are not truly worship of God. If they exalt our challenges, they deny the victory that Jesus paid for, and we shouldn't want to do that. If they victoriously declare who we are in Christ, that's encouraging, but the purpose of songs like that is to encourage us and for us to encourage one another. They are not truly worship or praise based on what the New Testament shows us regarding praise of Jesus for His miracles or worship as we see in the book of Revelation.

Again, if you're in the sweetness of worship of God, focusing on Him, expressing your love and devotion to Him, declaring His greatness, glory, majesty, and other attributes, the next song or songs shouldn't be about you. You'll step out of the sweet spot and lose the opportunity to fully bless Him for who He is.

All that's required is some attention to the lyrics when we're putting a set list together.

50 shillings and a bicycle fundi

50 shillings and a bicycle fundi.

 

I’ve been in Kenya for a while now, teaching in worship clinics and workshops. One of the main concepts that generates discussion during the teaching is the topic of song words. We all have our favorite songs. Songs that mean something to us because God used those songs to bless us in a tough time. Songs that appeal to our emotions. Songs that we’ve sung in church for years.

But as we grow and learn more about God and His Word through study, we see that some of those songs are like the story I tell about the 50 shillings I owe to the bicycle fundi – the bicycle repairman.

When my bicycle has been fixed, I need to pay the fundi what he deserves. If I’ve paid part but still owe him 50 Kenyan shillings, he will keep the bicycle. So I take my 50 shillings to the fundi so he will release my bike. His hands are extended to receive, and the money is in my hand. If I stand here and say to my hand, “Hand, give the money now. Oh my hand, give the money to the fundi now,” but I don’t actually give the money – I just talk to my hand – I’m not doing what needs to be done. I’m not giving the money to the person to whom it is due. I’m just talking to my hand.

At times we do that in our relationship with God. He deserves our praise, our words of blessing, our words of worship. And yet we sing, “Bless the Lord oh my soul,” which really is just me telling myself what I should be doing…instead of actually doing it.

Also, I’ve realized that instead of singing or saying what I should do, e.g. “I will worship” etc., I should actually just do it. I should be singing or saying, “Father, I worship you. I bless you for Your goodness and faithfulness. I honor You for who You are. You are mighty, holy, awesome, strong to save, creator, everlasting God, unchangeable, all powerful,” and more. Then I truly am blessing Him – worshiping Him.

Let’s evaluate what we’re saying and singing so we truly are worshiping God, because really, it’s worship of and to Him.



What about musical skill?

What about musical skill?

During a recent time of worship training in Portugal, I was asked for my opinion about worship team members' skill levels. I coach worship teams of different sizes and skill levels, and questions on this topic are asked in almost every worship clinic. Here are some simple principles that you can apply when your team members are not professional musicians.

Play to your ability.

It's important to assess and know the skill level of each instrumentalist and each vocalist. When a musician's skill level is at an intermediate (not advanced) level, you can tailor a song's arrangement so the musician can play it well.

Keep the song arrangements clean and simple.

I'd rather hear a simple arrangement done well than a worship band trying to imitate a professional touring band. Think about this: why are you trying to sound like another band? Be yourselves and allow God to flow through you with your unique sound.

Continue to develop musically.

I believe in musical auditions before someone becomes a part of a worship team. If someone has a desire to be a part of a team, the first things I look for during a musical audition are: can this personal actually sing, can this person feel/count beats (keep time), can this person harmonize (and yes, that's a must for me), at what level does this person play their instrument, is this person currently taking music lessons. If a potential musician doesn't have intermediate skills but they do have basic skills and potential, I will recommend (and sometimes provide) vocal or instrumental lessons to develop their skills.

When I was in school, I interned at a large church with a robust music program. I was impressed by the multiple worship teams and choirs for the church's multiple services. Each team and choir was at a different skill level, and each team member had the opportunity to develop their skills through music lessons that were provided (for a small fee) through the church. Not only did this church develop people spiritually, they developed the talents and gifts that God had given the musicians. As the musicians' skills and their spiritual lives developed, and their faithfulness and commitment was demonstrated, they were placed in positions of continually greater responsibility and opportunity.

Encourage each other.

Creative people reveal their hearts and passion through music, and this may make them feel vulnerable. If the only comments they hear are critical, a musician will disengage and often will quit. Encouraging each other as musicians is vital. I remember leading worship from the keys one Sunday when my son Rob was on the drums. We had hit a high spot in the worship set where the congregation was engaged, the song was building, and I sensed such a freedom in God occurring. Coming out of the song's bridge back into the chorus, Rob did a drum fill that was amazing and took the song to the next level musically. I turned and looked at him with the biggest smile on my face. The rest of the worship set was even better. After the service, I thanked him for playing with skill from his heart and for being boldly creative. He had added so much to the experience.

Encourage your team. It will inspire them.

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To None But God

A challenge for every pastor, worship leader, music minister, choir director and worship team leader

by Melody Lavin

U.S. Only: $6.99 + s/h

5 more actions of a great worship leader

In a previous blog, I posted five actions you can implement to become a great worship leader. Here are five more practical actions that will help you to become a great leader for your team.

Give the team a vision to follow.

Communicate the vision of the church as defined by the pastor, and communicate the vision for the worship ministry. Team members want to know why they are doing what they do and why they are playing/singing the songs that have been chosen. Team members want to know what the expected outcome of a worship service should be.

Be a great coach.

Most people are not born knowing how to coach other people. To learn how, most of us read books, attend seminars, and talk to others who successfully coach. The best experiences I've had in receiving coaching from my mentors was when they used open-ended questions that allowed me to express an opinion or frustration. They then asked additional questions that helped me to reach a solution or that inspired collaboration with them and others. And when the questions showed a lack of knowledge, great mentors didn't miss the opportunity to provide training.

A worship team leader needs coaching skills We work with people, and people deserve to be heard and helped.

Forgive.

A great leader forgives. A great leader doesn't judge others. Some people have rough days at work, and if the worship team members work jobs before coming to a rehearsal or a church service, you will want to be calm, compassionate, relaxed, and relatable. Be there for them, accepting them for who they are and where they are. Demonstrate God's love and forgiveness.

Model personal development.

Never stop learning. Demonstrate your desire to increase your current skills and to learn new ones. Share your stories. Inspire the team to continue to develop.

Provide cross-training.

My family and I decided to switch instruments for some special music one night. I left the keys and played drums. My husband left the bass and played keys. My son the drummer played guitar, and my son the guitarist played bass. The church loved it. We loved it. It stretched our skills, made us laugh more together, and created a new dynamic.

To prepare, I refreshed my husband's piano skills (he had taken lessons as a child), my son the drummer gave me some additional drum lessons and he put all those guitar lessons I paid for to use, and my son the guitarist found a new passion in playing bass. Try it with your team, even if you have to simplify a song's arrangement to accommodate skill levels.

Teams I've worked with have enjoyed cross-training to increase their skills. This also gives instrumental depth so you have others who can sub when someone is on vacation or needs a break.

Be creative.

A great worship leader thinks creatively and inspires others to think about how something could be done differently. Be creative in how you structure the team. Be creative in how you schedule them. Be creative in your arrangements. Be creative in songs' dynamics and intros, and more. Be creative in how you start the service. During the week, find a place where you can relax, pray, and allow yourself to dream creatively. Creativity refreshes your enjoyment of the opportunity to lead the team.

To None But God

A challenge for every pastor, worship leader, music minister, choir director and worship team leader

by Melody Lavin

U.S. Only: $6.99 + s/h