“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” Matt hew 22:2
Last weekend, something happened for the first time in my life as a worship leader. I came down with a bad stomach bug and couldn’t lead. I had to ask Becca, one of our other leaders, to fill in for me at the last minute. As it turned out, I ended up going in to run the audio, which gave me a chance to see something encouraging. Becca leads worship a lot like me. She has the concept of leading people into God’s presence and getting out of the way deeply imbedded in her nature. She thoughtfully put together a group of songs that engaged well, and led them with confidence and skill. She didn’t draw attention to mistakes and did a solid job leading the band. Even though I wasn’t feeling too well, it was good for me to be there to see it. I’ve only seen her lead in “I lead, you help”, or “you lead, I help” situations. This time, she was leading and i was watching. She led the way she leads, which looks a lot like the way I lead. I’d feel confident having her teach a new worship leader, and she has a daughter coming along who just might be that next one. There’s a saying in churches that people are hired for skill and fired for character. I knew quite a bit about Becca’s character development before she developed worship leading skills. It’s easy to see her lasting for the long run, because the personal, family and community relationships are strong. Character outweighs competence, but in this case, both parts are doing really well.
Have you heard of unconscious competence? It’s having the practiced skill at something so you don’t have to even think about it when you do it. I’ve had the opportunity to lead worship many times in many settings for many years. Along the way, I’ve gained some unconscious competence. The problem with unconscious competence is that it’s just there and since you don’t think about it, you don’t think about explaining it and sharing it. In this blogpost, I’m going to share some things I’ve learned, along with giving you the opportunity to share and ask questions.
We connect with God and with His people in worship. These are a few of the practical things I’ve figured out along the way.
Love your people by singing songs in a singable key. In most cases it will be a little lower than you’re used to, but you’ll have more people engaging if they aren’t pulling a throat muscle trying to sing along.
Enjoy what you’re doing and tell your face. Open your eyes and smile once in awhile. Be genuine. Be yourself. God loves you and He’s really, really proud of you.
Don’t be afraid of repeating songs. If a certain song is moving people’s hearts, and you sense the Spirit moving among you, why would you be afraid to sing it a few weeks in a row? Some songs seem to have a season of anointing or power. Singing heartfelt, familiar songs to Jesus, where they are so familiar people can sing them without looking at the screen; joyful, weeping, kneeling……… Songs like Break Every Chain, Revelation Song and Wonderful make their way into our hearts. Our kids sing them while they’re outside on the swing set. Why would we not encourage them by keeping it going?
Dynamics are important. You need to be aware of what’s going on. Sometimes, I’ll bring a loud song down to just the people’s voices, with very little instrumentation and repeat a section several times. It’s a matter of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and our hearts. It’s not mystical and mysterious, but it is Spirit led. I can see faces of people connecting, engaging and embracing worship. I just see it on their faces and in their actions. It’s prophetic, but it is learned by observing and listening. Just about every week, we end up doing a song differently than we did in practice, because there is a nudge from the Spirit and we respond. It works.
Here’s a tip for leading different groups and multi denominations. If you’re given 15 minutes for worship songs, ask the Father to lead you through it, and He’ll do it in 14:59. If you’re given a time parameter, honor it. If you’re asked to do Shout to the Lord as your closing song, do it. Giving honor to leaders is so good to do. Laying down your preferences to bless the folks you’ve been asked to lead builds their confidence in you. You’re there to serve.
Never flinch when you make a mistake. Most people won’t notice if you don’t point it out. I have a piano player friend who would quietly say “no” every time she hit a wrong note. She didn’t realize she was doing it, and was grateful when we pointed it out to her. It’s a good idea to gently, privately, positively point out these kinds of things to team members. They’ll be grateful and feel loved.
If your denomination and congregation are open to it, invite the people to stand, raise their hands or show some other outward form of connection or surrender in worship. As you lead, you are also teaching by example. Be conscious of your own physicality that speaks and teaches your people as you lead.
Be the one who becomes friends with other worship leaders in your area. Pull them together. Do it to bless and encourage each other. Worship with each other. The fruit will be amazing!
If you have stories or questions, feel free to comment below.
The week before Easter is one of the very best times of the year, here in the Diablo Valley. I’m aware of the irony in that last sentence. Our hometown area has a dominant feature. Mt. Diablo is about 4,000 feet in elevation, with a nearly as tall north peak joined to it. It’s a beautiful mountain, and it has an incredible view from its peak. The legend I choose to believe about the mountain is that the Spanish originally named it “Montaña Doble”, or double mountain. When American settlers came in, they renamed it Diablo and came up with some Native American legend about what went on up there in ancient times. I think they just didn’t understand Spanish very well.
Here in Diablo Valley, we have a multi-denominational family of churches named Church Without Shoes. During holy week, we share in 40 hour prayer time on Monday and Tuesday, followed by a community wide communion service on Maundy Thursday. There are about 35 churches involved, to varying degrees. The pastors even go on a yearly retreat together.
This year, the worship band for Maundy Thursday consists of 13 musicians and tech folks from 9 churches. We play pretty universally known worship songs, but the biggest thing going on is relationship. We’re excited to see how God will use us together in worship, in relationship and in mission.
Have a great Easter Week!
The Road to Worship Leading
I started playing guitar at 14. My parents signed me up for lessons because they were concerned I was getting too quiet and turning into a loner. They were right. My junior high experience isn’t one I look back on with any fondness. I grew to my full 6’4” without gaining any weight. I was, however, growing a nice crop of acne all over my face. My dad told me would be character building. My eighth grade campaign ended with 6 weeks of mononucleosis, which did not come from kissing a girl.
I started guitar lessons, and was immediately immersed. My non-school waking hours were spent practicing on a $40 Orlando acoustic guitar. After a few months, my teacher passed me along to another teacher, who passed me along to another. I took lessons all through high school, and was progressing right along, until I realized that the cool guitar players also sang. With that in mind, I bought the songbooks for every Beatles, Dylan and James Taylor song I could find. I was still pretty reluctant to sing and play in front of people, but my parents made me do it, even though I groaned and resisted.
My junior year, a girl at school asked me to come to a Young Life meeting, which was being led by my biology teacher, Mr. Ashlock. I don’t know how he knew I could play and sing, but he asked me to bring my guitar. When I arrived, he told me to go up front, next to the other guitar player and play along. Everything was going well, I was just playing guitar and singing. There wasn’t any big pressure until Mr. Ashlock asked me to sing “A Horse With No Name”, by America. I knew the song well, so I figured, “why not?” and went ahead and did it. I don’t know why he asked me to do it. I’ve asked him about it since; he says he doesn’t remember. But, after a couple of months, in the Ashlock’s family room, as Seals and Crofts “Summer Breeze” played on the stereo, i quietly decided Jesus was who I wanted to follow. And I followed Him, with my guitar, the last two years of high school.
After high school, I moved into a dorm at San Diego State. Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album and the ubiquitous “Free Bird” were playing on every dorm room stereo. There was a whole lot of partying going on all around me, and for some reason I just couldn’t join in. I got really lonely, and moved back home after one semester.
Meanwhile, my friend, Mike McCoy, had taken over leading the Young Life club at Concord High, and asked me if I’d like to help lead. (That was 1975. It’s 2014, and we’re still in this together.) I thought it sounded like a good idea, so I enrolled in junior college and led songs and Campaigners for Young Life. There was a very pretty brunette named Linda who was also helping out. She already had a boyfriend, but man, she seemed really nice and was becoming a really good friend. Of course, we fell in love, listening to the Doobie Brothers “Black Water”. We were engaged in 1976 to Bread’s “Baby, I’m a Want You”, married in 1977 to “Beautiful” by Gordon Lightfoot, raised a family, and now are grandparents together. Our grandkids like Mumford and Sons. So do we.
In the summer of ’75, our Campaigners group started reading Bonhoffer’s “Life Together”. After reading it, we were convinced the only way to live life like Jesus was to move in together, pool our money and share our lives. So started Life Together Community. We bought and shared houses, worshipped at home, ate generic foods, homeschooled our kids and looked for some place far away from the city, where we could live out our lives following Jesus. We were sure the institutional church had it all wrong and we were going to blaze our own trail to Christian living. We never ended up leaving town, because we never sensed God saying it was a good idea to leave. We’ve also since repented of our view of the church. Now we’re part of Church Without Shoes, a multi denominational family of local churches. The remnant of Life Together still live right here on the same street, four families who live in two houses. They’re set up like duplexes, sharing a laundry room.
In 1984, our friend, Marty Reitzin, invited us to Santa Barbara for a weekend conference at Westmont College, to see John Wimber. We had heard stories of the Vineyard and the Fuller Seminary course, MC501, but we were pretty skeptical. So we, the McCoys and a couple other friends drove south in our 1975 Mercury Marquis to see what was really going on.
I remember walking into the gym at Westmont. Worship had already started. The songs were so simple, but there was something different going on. I ran through a flurry of emotions as worship went on. The music, the thick presence of the Spirit, the healing; I was sold right then and there. I knew. I needed to become a worship musician. Many kairos moments (we used to call them divine appointments) over 14 years led to that night. So many have come since and will continue, but from that point on, the decision was made. I was a worship leader.
Recently, I was setting up the stage at our church building for worship. I started thinking about how the front of a church came to be called “the stage.” A stage implies a show, and a show implies personalities or stars. I’m not sure it’s the best word to use, but I’ll save that discussion for another time.
We have a cross at the back of our stage. Someone sent me a picture they took during worship, and it looked like the cross was coming out of the top of the drummer’s head. The band was set up, behind the communion table and in front of the cross (the cross is slightly above floor level). Linda, my wife, was the one who pointed it out. She said it was strange to have the people who lead worship stand in front of a symbol of the One we worship. Instead of being a conduit for worship, we were putting ourselves in front visually. At first, I was reluctant to change things around, because the band was set up in a way that was best for sound and comfortable for the musicians. But, it didn’t take too long to realize Linda was right. I always talk about leading people into the throne room and getting out of the way. I always say it’s not about me. Here was a chance to do something to make the point right up front.
We cleared a path on the stage, roughly 8 feet wide, down the center, leading to the cross. The band was spread apart to each side of the stage, with the drums and bass over to the right, keys and lead guitar to the left. I explained what we were doing to the band and they were more than willing to go with it. It gives us a chance to remember who we serve. It’s a little inconvenient, but it’s a small sacrifice we gladly make. I get asked about it once in awhile, and when I explain that it’s a tangible, simple way to show we honor Jesus, people get it. Everything we do or don’t do says something about what we value. In this case, it’s a tangible demonstration; it’s not about us, it’s about Him.
Being on a worship team is an awesome privilege. We’re usually on a stage, but that doesn’t make us stars. We’re there to help lead our people into His presence. It takes more than good lighting, sound and musical skill. We serve at the pleasure of Jesus, under the authority of our leaders, with love, encouragement and compassion for those we lead. We’re keeping an open lane.