Lead in Music and Worship like a Pro
By John Chisum
Three Ways to Increase Your Ability and Effectiveness as a Music/Worship Communicator
What makes a great music / worship leader? Do the good ones possess a secret power that you do not? How did they learn to use their music so effectively to move people towards an understanding of the presence of God in worship? Can you learn some of the same principles for your own local church worship ministry?
All things being equal, there is no reason you should not be as effective and powerful music / worship leader. All discussion of talent, church size, budget, gear, and music styles aside, you have the same Holy Spirit as they do, or as any of us have as believers. God’s Spirit is the only source of spiritual power and the basis for all authentic ministries regardless of where any of us fall on the continuum of natural talents and musical abilities. Assumingly, you are leading the music ministry because God has called you to do it and not because you are trying to gain recognition for your talent.
I hope that you are beyond needing to be up on a church platform to prove anything and that your heart is toward serving the Lord by serving His people. If that is the case, what keeps you from being as effective as the ‘pros’? Since you have the same Spirit as they have and God wants you to lead His people, why can’t you expect the same kind of results and response as you see them and others having from their congregations? What do they have that you do not have? Is there any benefit in comparing ourselves to these wonderfully gifted people who have become role models for us in leading worship? The answer is really a bit mixed, a ‘Yes’ in some ways and a ‘No’ in others.
First, the ‘No’s.’ There is no benefit in comparing ourselves to ‘professional’ worship leaders for the mere sake of comparison. That is just wrong. Comparing your assets to someone else’s will usually leave you on the short end of the deal. If not, and you judge yourself better than other leaders, you are guilty of pride. The Scriptures teach us to be satisfied with what God has given us and to be faithful stewards of His gifts to us (I Cor. 4: 2). Secondly, these people are not the ultimate models, anyway, only Christ is. He is the only viable comparison worth making.
Another reason to resist the temptation to compare your ministry to these well-known leaders is that they have been able to put thousands of dollars into their recordings to make them sound virtually flawless. Even if your church had extra money laying around, the finance committee would never let you spend it.
When these artists appear in public concerts, they usually have professional back up bands and amazing singers behind them. You will probably never have that kind of cash to spend on your congregational worship and most of us are blessed to have one or two good singers, much less a platform full of amazing ones. A final ‘no’ to comparing yourself to them is that their ministries are trans-local, meaning they are commissioned by God to lead the broader body of Christ throughout the world. You and I are generally much more localized, ministering primarily to the local church. The ‘results’ we seek are not the same as theirs, all told. Their ministries are to the general public, while our ministries are geared to a specific group week after week who are committed to following our leadership. We have a unique opportunity to speak into people more consistently and constantly than the traveling artists. This is a weighty responsibility, to say the very least. How we treat people in our care is as important as any song arrangement or cool production number. We are mentors of worship, models of what praise and worship is supposed to be and people get to see our lives on display week after week after week, unlike the itinerant artists who come to town once a year or so.
Now the ‘Yes’s.’ There is nothing wrong with learning from others how to do something or how to do something better. That is why God gave us ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers’ (Eph. 4) that we might learn from them how to be the people of God. We can study excellent worship leaders and learn from them, though I am quick to caution that we should always avoid outright imitation of anyone. My rule is ‘Innovate – don’t imitate.’ It is fine to watch and learn, just don’t mimic what others do’be yourself always. Back in the day when I was a producer at a record company in Nashville, I lost count of the church sopranos that showed up at my office claiming to be ‘the next Sandi Patty.’ We already had one Sandy. Why did we need thirty more? Be who God has made you to be.
That is what our Fab Four (Darlene, et al) have done’they are totally themselves as they do ministry and are genuine in their personalities. Paul (the Apostle, not Baloche) said to his faith community, ‘Follow me as I follow Christ’ (I Cor. 1:11). Another reason we can follow and learn from great leaders is that it is a biblical principle to do so. We need to follow people who are further down the road in knowledge and experience and, in turn, mentor the generations who will come behind us. So while we should make some comparisons in order to learn, we do so with great caution and discernment. Let me share with you what I think are four vital principles for tapping into the same kind of leadership power we observe in great music / worship leaders.
Great leaders are great communicators.
I have had several of my praise team singers tell me just in the last two weeks that they feel uncomfortable talking between songs or that ‘leading’ a song pushes them out of their comfort zone. I have had a couple of them say that singing a solo actually frightens them. My question to them (though I put it in more palatable terms than this) is ‘Then what are you doing on a platform?’ Somehow, we have proffered the idea that singing is leading. It is not. Singing is singing. Leading is leading.
Just as we have mistakenly invested in recording artists the responsibility of leadership that many of them do not deserve (for lack of skills and even for lack of moral character in some cases), we have, by and large in this country, substituted a pretty voice for worship leading. Because we think music and worship is synonymous, we have completely missed the theological boat on what authentic worship leadership is supposed to be. If the song service goes smoothly and we avoid all possible train wrecks we assume we had ‘great worship.’ But is that true?
Please, let me ask you’was anyone’s life changed in our worship service? Did anyone come to Christ or repent of their sins? Was anyone healed of sickness, mental or physical, and did anyone come crawling to the altar to fall on his or her face before God? Were any demons driven out of a local Gadarene demoniac? Is there any tangible manifestation that would lead us to conclude that ‘the kingdom of God has come nigh’ unto us? Where is the power of our worship?
Great worship leaders step beyond music, far beyond.
Great music leaders are each involved in changing the world for Christ in some very positive ways far beyond their recordings. The platform they have earned has come to them, first, because God could trust them with it, and secondly, because at some point, the music became secondary to them and communicating the Gospel through it became paramount. I submit to you also that each of these people has become somewhat ‘pastoral’ in a broad sense of the word and that they ‘pastor’ us as they lead us in song. They use their songs, stories, and CD’s to draw us closer to the throne of God rather than closer to themselves. Do you do the same?
The first way they ‘pastor’ is to communicate sound doctrine in their songs. Chris Tomlin’s lyrics (many written with other songwriters, of course) are some of the strongest sermons out there. His song ‘Made to Worship’ is a brilliant mini-sermon on the creation of humanity to worship God. He is instructing us as he leads, which is another aspect of our role, to teach one another in ‘psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs’ (Eph. 5, Col. 3). The church learns most of its doctrine through its songs. That is why, historically, every great move of God is accompanied (pun intended) with a new wave of hymnody (think ‘A Mighty Fortress’).
The hymns and choruses you deliver each week are instructing the congregation as they sing them. They are forced to consider the words you project, and these doctrines are memorized as they sing them. You are a gatekeeper of doctrine just as much as your pastor is, whether anyone will admit it or not, and the odds are that your people won’t leave church Sunday humming his three points, poem, and prayer! You are constantly communicating something as you lead. Is it the right thing?
Great leaders show up to lead, not to follow.
Have you ever been in a room full of preachers? It is almost comical how each one vies for control of the podium. If you have ever attended an ecumenical rally or community prayer meeting where each pastor is given five minutes to speak or to pray, you have probably witnessed his or her complete inability to tell time. Why is this? I believe it is because they are driven to lead. That is just how God made them. Birds gotta fly, dogs gotta bark, preachers gotta preach. It should be the same with worship leaders. True worship leaders are driven by the prospect of seeing their congregations come alive in praise. This requires strong leadership and a clear understanding of our task.
I was in a rehearsal recently when it dawned on me that the confusion that was occurring in it was my fault. I thought that I had prepared well. I thought that putting the music in front of the musicians and singers was enough to get us by, but it was not. The rehearsal was going nowhere, and it suddenly dawned on me that these people are expecting me to lead them! Things started turning around for me at that moment. I took a stronger attitude towards my position as a leader and stopped second-guessing myself on every decision. I am not 100% right on every call, but I am much less afraid to make a call these days. If it appears incorrect, we can always go back and correct it. The fear of making a mistake as a leader is debilitating. We are simply not going to be perfect leaders, so we should get over ourselves and go for it!
Great leaders prepare to lead.
One thing that will help you as a leader is to realize that every person in your band, choir, and praise team is completely over-committed and exhausted. The best thing you can do for them is to be overly-prepared for rehearsals, break things down into bite-sized chunks, and make it easy for them to grasp where you are wanting to go. That is an important part of your leadership, just to know where you want to go. Prepare yourself. Think through rehearsals, worship services, music planning, and prepare yourself to lead others. God has called and equipped you to lead. So lead.
Here are three practical things you can do each week to become a more effective music leader and ‘lead like the pros’:
1) Plan far ahead ‘ keep working backwards from calendar events 6 – 12 months away (Christmas, Easter especially). Talk with your pastor(s) and leadership teams to plan 12 months out and discuss sermon series and special outreach events, as well as weekly worship goals. Refine and review this plan every week to stay on track and excited.
2) Don’t plan in a vacuum ‘ be sure to include as many from your team as possible in selecting music that speaks to your team and to your church. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself musically and never let the repertoire grow stale. Lavish communication is never fruitless. Realize that you are responsible for communicating the vision of worship to your pastor, teams, and congregation.
3) Stay fresh in your personal worship by realizing that Sundays is not your primary worship time. You and your teams are there for the people’s benefit, just as the pastor is there for their benefit. The sermon time is not the pastor’s Bible study time’he has prepared ahead. The song service is not your primary worship time, either. You are there to facilitate the song of the people to the Lord. If you are ill-prepared or empty, you will be less effective than you can be if you have kept yourself in the Word and in worship throughout the week.
Remember: leaders are readers and readers are leaders. Fill yourself with great devotional material along with Scriptures. Do not try to lead others where you have not been.
Along with great planning, preparation, leadership, and an uncommon ability to communicate with others from the platform there is one other suggestion I have that can help you become an excellent worship leader. By embracing the personality God has given you, you can use it to engage others in authentic praise and worship.
Developing Your Leadership Personality
My wife, Donna, is a very private person. Whereas I am proud to have nearly 500 people as my Facebook friends, she doesn’t even want a Facebook page. My idea of fun is a party, but hers is a quiet evening with a book in front of the fire. Donna has an alter ego, though, when she teaches her aerobic classes. When she dresses up in her workout clothes, puts on the little headset mic and steps up in front of the class she becomes Aerobic Barbie! She skillfully leads her classes through their exercises with humor and confidence because she has worked hard to overcome shyness and fear.
It is surprising how many worship leaders have never overcome themselves to lead effectively. Just like Donna has developed her ‘leadership personality’ our Big Four (Paul, Michael, Chris, and Darlene) have a ‘stage personality’ that is not disingenuous to them at all. Who they are on stage is a lot like they are off, but they have to use confidence and poise that they might not otherwise be conscious of. It is the same with you. You need to develop a ‘leadership personality,’ if you will, that you become comfortable with as you lead. Your pastor has one, no doubt, and so should you.
This is not to say that you become phony or someone you are not. It simply means that you do not deny the personality God has given you. In fact, He gave you that personality for the very purpose of engaging others with it to lead them to Him.
I often hear praise team people say, ‘I just don’t want to draw attention to myself.’ This is understandable, but wrong. You must draw attention to yourself in order to direct people’s focus to God. We are not invisible. People are looking at us. We must be engaging enough to attract people’s confidence and engage them with what we are doing as we model worship. From there, we direct them through each song, movement, and comment to a sharper focus on Christ and on how to worship Him. If we are tentative, we destroy any chance of focusing them on God. Funny how that works, understand that you are unique and that God uses your personality to attract people to His presence. I tend to use my natural humor to disarm the congregation. If I can get them laughing it loosens them up a little and allows me to engage them in the songs.
Another technique I use is to tell an extremely brief anecdote about something in my life that helps them realize I am a struggling human like they are. This past weekend I started the service off by greeting them and then saying, ‘I looked in the mirror today and my Dad was looking back at me (laugh, laugh).’ I then mentioned something about not letting the fact that I am getting older (and fatter) keep me from worshiping God and that we, all of us, have all kinds of reasons to praise Him. It was a little lame, but funny enough to loosen them up. The point is that you can use your God-given human personality to engage people. (Consider, also, that every book in the Bible carries something of the personality of the human God’s Spirit used to write it same principle here). Be yourself.
Then, as only God can do, He takes our humble offerings (five crackers and a few sardines?) and multiplies them as bread to the nations. God starts with who you are, adds who He is, and turns it all into something far beyond what we could ever do on our own. Maybe you, like I, need to stop looking so much at others and start looking more to Him for His over-the-top ability to lead. Then, along with our own particular musical and spiritual gifts we can release ourselves to the power of the same Holy Spirit and learn to lead like a pro.
From: www.churchcentral.com web site. July 2008′
”This article may not be not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, ‘Eat meat. Throw away the bones.’