Thursday, January 21, 2016

Goal Setting: Growing Musically as a Worship Team

If you feel like the worship music has become a little bit stale, it might be time to bring things up a notch musically.  Start with a vision for growth. That means taking an honest look at your teams strengths and weaknesses and envisioning what you want that to look like in a year, a month, and next rehearsal. you could even sit down with your team and ask them to think about how their piece of the puzzle fits into this. What are the musical problems that crop up when you think about where your team is musically and where you would like them to be?

I'll give you a great example. Once upon a time, in a far away church, on a legendary worship team, there played a drummer. I'll call him Cedric.* Cedric loved hard rock. He had a natural ability to listen to a hard rock praise and worship song and recreate it almost exactly. Cedric was old school - he was strong, he was loud, and he only ever wanted to play on an acoustic set.

Faraway church loved Cedric's playing, but the church needed to sing more than just hard rock songs. Faraway church needed to sing some simple, quiet, love songs to Jesus. Cedric refused to play slow quiet songs because he felt like a bull in a china shop. How could the music pastor save Faraway church from it's lack of love songs without making Cedric feel like a terrible musician?

Should the music pastor avoid quiet love songs to Jesus?
Should she fire Volunteer Cedric and search for a more well-rounded, even if less talented drummer?

With some brainstorming and a little creative problem solving, the team was able to widen their musical style to include softer, quieter songs without getting rid of valiant Cedric. Sometimes, they sang songs without any drums. Sometimes, they used simple auxiliary percussion to add feel without using the set. And Cedric agreed to try using brushes instead of sticks to play some of the softer songs. Eventually the church replaced the acoustic set with a much more manageable electronic set so that the sound tech could control the level of drums. Cedric wasn't thrilled with the electronic set, but agreed to try and work on it for the sake of good music.

No one wanted to single Cedric out because he was very talented and very willing to share his time with the team. And we are all Cedrics in some way or another - we all tend to rely on our strengths and avoid our weaknesses.  So what are some other ways we can solve this and similar problems that hamper musical growth? Maybe there aren't specific 'problems' that you can think of, but your team lacks musical interest.  Sometimes we just need to think about things a little differently to really bring out the nuance of a song so that its message can reach all the way into the softest parts of the people's hearts. Have you tried any of these ideas?

1. Dynamics. The ebb and tide of flowing dynamics can make or break a piece of music. An average worship song may have a soft verse and and a medium loud chorus, with a crescendoing bridge into a loud chorus and back to a soft chorus. It's pretty predictable, but does give good flow to the song. Make sure you are exploring the full range of dynamics of a piece - and if you don't like the dynamics that are there, you might need to create some of your own.

Encourage your musicians to play softly and really listen to each other as you learn new songs. This is a great exercise to increase the musicianship of your team. As you rehearse a song, watch the lyrics and melodies for places where dynamic changes will really pop.  It is amazing how much more in sync a team can play when they rehearse softly as opposed to rehearsing at the full volume of the song.

What if you took a hard, loud, fast song and softened it up? What would happened if you took a soft song and sang it loudly? Sometimes, a hushed chorus creates just the right mood for folks to hear Jesus.

2.  Vary instrumentation. This is a great way to add some creative flavor to your songs and makes your musicians sound more professional. Avoid having everyone playing all of the time. Mix it up - drop out the instruments for a full chorus of drums and vocals while keeping the momentum going. Try starting a song with just keys or just acoustic guitar, allowing other instruments to join in on verse 2, and then fall out again at the end. Have your percussionist leave the set for bongos, or exchange your piano-strings (my go to sound) for a little electric piano, rock organ, or ???? Try a little distortion and a lot, but don't keep it the same all the time. Experiment and have fun, and remember, you don't have to mimic the CD but do what your worship team does best.

3. Vary the harmony. Don't fall into the trap of always singing in unison or always singing in harmony. Mix it up! Throw in a few solos, duets, and trios, try using unison or harmonic singing to draw attention to certain lines in the song. Take turns giving melody to different vocal parts, allowing harmony to fall above or below the melody as needed. If you're congregation is singing strongly, take a risk and back off the mic and let them hear themselves singing praises to God.

4.  YouTube it. A great way to learn technique is to find sample videos on YouTube. Pass them on to your team with a light-hearted request to add it in to a specific song. A well placed glissando, guitar lick, or bass solo can make a worship song come to life.

5. Model. Be a model for your team and demonstrate great dynamics, techniques, and harmonies. Jot down a few ideas before rehearsal to enhance your songs.

6. Encourage! A wise physical therapist used to always give prizes to her young patients because, "Everyone wants to get paid." Worship team volunteers are there to worship our Lord and Savior, but a little thanks and encouragment goes a long way to keeping them excited about making music for God.

Give your Cedrics lots of thanks and praise as you encourage them to break out of their comfort zone in small ways. Look for fun, creative solutions and interesting ways to enhance the musicality of your songs and increase the abilities of your team. This positive atmosphere of growth will help fuel your teams passion for creating excellent music that glorifies God.

*Names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Goal Setting: Growing Personally as a Musician

What are you going to do about the status quo in 2016? 

It doesn't matter how old your church is, what type of music you sing, or what kind of venue you have. All churches can get stuck in the status quo or caught up in their typical routines. And that's ok to a point, because it can be good for people to have an idea of what to expect each week. But even non-traditional churches manage to create their own traditions, and congregations that are solely contemporary in music style are just as liable for getting stuck in a musical rut as older, more traditional congregations are. Getting a little too comfortable is always a risk we take when we are involved in church music. And when we start thinking "well, we've never done that before," we might just be headed down the slippery slope of complacency.

But we serve a God who loves variety, life, and growth. We serve a God who said look, I'm doing something new! (Isaiah 43:19). We serve a God who deserves not only our best, but our everything. So here we go in 2016 to not just maintain what we've got, but grow the seeds that God has put in our care. For now, let's take a look at one of the more apparent aspects of music ministry that deserves attention and growth: musicality.

One way to burst out of a musical rut and get out of the status quo is to grow musically as an indifvidual and as a team. As a leader, you set the example! If you want your musicians to get better at their craft, you'll have to be working on yours. The most obvious choice is usually to sign up for some lessons on your main instrument, but that can be very cost prohibitive, especially on a professional level. Instead, you might take some other approaches:

1. Invest in  new repertoire. If you usually play Billy Joel-esque songs for fun, switch it up and try something classical. If Bach is your go to, then go grab some show tunes and give it a go. Love classical guitar? Pick up a few well-known riffs. Pick out a few new and different pieces - something out of your comfort zone - and make a plan for when you're going to have it learned. Let your team know that you're trying something new - and how hard/easy/fun/rewarding/good for you that it is. It will help them to see you struggle with the nuance or notes or techniques that you're not used to using. Can you encourage or challenge them to do the same? Hopefully they'll see the benefit of your hard work and try it for themselves.

2. Try learning by a different means. Do you always learn by ear? How about brushing up on your sight reading skills. If you're a pianist, just grab a hymnal and see what you can do. Or if you always play by sheet music, try brushing up on your listening skills. There are oodles of ear training apps to help you do just that. Listen to the radio and see if you can write down the melody you hear. These types of exercises will definitely expand your musicianship.

3. Pick up a new instrument. It will give you an appreciation for the beginner players on your team, and it will widen your musical horizons. And it will totally break you out of your comfort zone!

4. Master a new technique. Always wanted to learn to play a glissando, a bar chord, or a lip slur? There is a plethora of knowledge on YouTube just waiting for you to dive in. You're bound to find plenty of demos available for your new skill. Find one, learn it, and get to work practicing it so you can incorporate it with your worship team.

5. Do the thing that makes you nervous. Is there a piece of music you love but are nervous to play in front of others? Are you great on the worship platform, but performing in a different type of venue terrifies you? Get yourself out there! Find a little coffee shop, karaoke stage, or open mic night and try it.  You love your instrument but don't think you can teach? Give it a try! Do that hard thing just once and see what it does for your confidence and musical maturity.

What other ways can you think of to grow musically as a leader in 2016? What have you tried in the past and what worked or didn't? Remember to set a measurable goal that you can complete within a reasonable time frame -and then go for it! Even if your progress is slow, you'll still be further along than if you hadn't tried.  God loves us and He loves our music, so let's make it the best we have to give.

Next time, we'll talk about how to help your team grow musically in the worship set. After that, we'll look at growing spiritually as a leader and as a team.

Pray for me and I'll pray for you!

Monday, January 11, 2016

What fuels your worship team?

What is the driving force behind your worship team? What is the passion that fuels their song? What motivates your teammates to sacrifice their time and share their talents for Sunday morning worship? What is your motivation for singing or playing or leading or participating?

 I'm sure we all know what the 'right' answer is.  We know what we should say; we know the answer we think God wants to hear. Just stop for a second, and take a look at the real condition of your heart. You might as well be honest with yourself - God already knows the truth about you (and He loves you anyway!). What is your real motivation?

My heart is a mixed bag. On any given day, I want to lead worship for a lot of different reasons. And yeah, some of them are self-serving. Should I be afraid to admit that? Not all of my reasons for leading worship are selfish, but I am a sinner and sadly, some of them are.

There is hope for me yet, and you, too, if your motivations are kind of like mine.  Christ has covered our sin and selfishness, and He can use even our most meager gift for God's glory. That's a relief! I don't have to be perfectly motivated to do what I do. On the other hand, I can't afford to be complacent about my the state of my heart, attitude, and motivation.  This is what  I want my heart to look like:

In the Old Testament, in the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah the prophet has been called by God to share a specific message from God for His people. Jeremiah wasn't thrilled about his assignment, he knew it wasn't going to a message that made him popular in the people's eyes. But this message was God's Word! And what does he have to say about that? Jeremiah says,

""But if I say, "I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot." (Jeremiah 20:9, NIV,

That about sums it up. I want God's Word to be such a fire in my soul that I can't help but let it out. I want to be so full of God's Word that His praise wells up and busts out when I sing. I want God's love to burn inside me so strongly that I simply cannot keep it in.

Dear God, Please set fire to my soul....

Monday, January 4, 2016

Being present in Christ's presence.

It is the Monday after New Year's. It is back to reality. It is back to routine. It is back to life after a hazy, crazy, over-filled, over-spent, worship-filled, hugged-out Christmas season. It was a good Christmas, probably my most favorite ever, since it includes the most children I have ever had. And chickens. It included my first ever flock of chickens, too.

But what good is a Christmas if celebrating the birth of Christ hasn't worked on my soul?

What good are presents if the presence of Christ hasn't forever changed me?

What good is a New Year if I'm not using it to further the Kingdom of God?

I'm not going to tell you to make New Year's resolutions for your ministry. That would be completely heretical on my part. On the other hand, I do believe it is time to reflect on what worked and didn't work in 2015. It's a good time to think about how we can continue to grow musically and spiritually in our worship in 2016. There are plenty of fun  and exciting plans and programs that can help you - check out,,, and for tons of ideas, inspiration, and methods. Listen to some new Indie musicians and some music veterans for worship inspiration. But nothing compares to going right to the source. The one Source.

Who doesn't want to thrive personally and professionally this year? Who doesn't want to rise above their circumstances and succeed in amazing ways? Who doesn't want to make this their best year ever? I want all these things. But here's what I really want.

I want to be a worshipper - one who knows Jesus and responds to Him. I want to be God's friend. I want to know Him better than anyone else. I want to see His power working in my life and through my life every single day. And I want the same for my worship team - I want them to know Him even more deeply this year. To worship Him freely, not because that's what their supposed to do as the worship team, but because they completely and honestly can't help worshipping God because of how good He truly is. And I wish that for you.

But that will never happen unless I order my days. It's not going to become reality unless I do one thing - spend time with Jesus. We can't just show up in body, reading through God's Word, we need to show up in mind and spirit. And so my goal is to be present.

Present with God in my planned devotion times, present with God in public worship times. Emotionally and mentally present in my family so I can show them God's presence in my life. This means a lot of things - making devotional time a priority, not putzing on my smart phone when I could be interacting more with my kids, not wasting time on things that don't matter, going to bed early so that I am not too tired to be present.

God is present - am I aware of Him? I received a few great Christmas presents this year. But the Christmas season brought forth something even better in me - a stronger desire to know the presence of Christ in my every day life and the possibility of reflecting Christ's presence to those who are present in my life. I don't think I could ask for a better gift.

What gift have you received this Christmas? How does it change 2016 for you?

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