Lead Worship Like a Professional

Quick question: what is it about conferences like Passion, Catalyst and Bethel Conference, for instance, that make worship such a deep, spiritual experience?

Is it because the lights and the hazer and the loud volume set up some sort of extra-spiritual atmosphere? Doubt it. Is it because the people leading the conference have some sort of deep spiritual anointing reserved for an extremely small and lucky minority, a plurality of which also happens to be related to Bill Johnson? Seems like a stretch. Is it because you’re spending several days away from the world just to focus on God? Perhaps, but there’s distractions in our own church services as well, and most of them don’t come from the outside world.

I’d like to put out a thought that’s a bit too practical for people to think about in conjunction with worship: the people who are leading worship at these conferences are professionals.

When I say professionals, I don’t merely mean the fact that they are paid to lead worship. Lots of people who are paid to lead worship are completely unprofessional, and lots of people who aren’t paid to lead worship act more like a professional. It’s not about the money, it’s about the mindset.

The difference between these huge worship bands and the bands many of us hear on Sunday morning is primarily that the execution is flawless: everyone is playing their exact parts and playing them together, while the sound technician is mixing the instruments and vocals as if you’re listening to a studio recording. It’s clean, it’s together, and most importantly, it’s void of any distraction-causing mistakes.

Now, obviously, there can be a huge difference between the worship bands who play for thousands of people and can pick the best musicians in their city, and the small-town churches who have to take what they can get. There’s often a huge difference in talent as well as resources. But that doesn’t mean musical excellence isn’t possible.

Excellence actually glorifies God:

Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
    Praise befits the upright.
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
    make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.

For the word of the Lord is upright,
    and all his work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

Psalm 33:1-5 (ESV)

Did you catch that command? “Play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. For the work of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” Playing skillfully – with excellence – is the sort of worship God deserves. God gave every instrumentalist their abilities. Why does He deserve anything less than our absolute best when we give it back to Him in musical worship?

You can tell when you attend a church that doesn’t make excellence a priority. Something isn’t quite together in the music. Everyone on the stage seem to be in a different place in worship. Sometimes you notice one or two instruments playing off-beat, or missing pitches, or vocalist forgetting their words or what melodies they’re supposed to sing. They’re staring at their lyrics and their chord charts as they play because they’ve done zero preparation.

There are a few simple, practical ways that church worship teams can ensure excellence from all their musicians and worship leaders, and therefore ensure a more pleasant and inviting atmosphere of worship.

1. Plan as far ahead as possible.

Sometimes this doesn’t work out, but in general, you should plan out your set lists as far in advance as possible. The earlier your musicians get the set, the earlier they can start preparing their parts, and the less work will need to be done during rehearsals. Getting your music to your musicians less than a week in advance will often result in sloppy playing. My general rule is this: the more musicians you have playing, the earlier you need to get your set to them. When it’s just me and my wife, I know I can be a bit more liberal on timing because we only have to sort things out between the two of us. When it’s a full band, I try to go as far out as a month, if not more, because that means more time in rehearsal has to be dedicated to getting all the instruments on the same page.

2. Coordinate with the Sermon

The more your worship set matches the sermon, the more it conveys that your church is unified, and that there’s one message to remember coming out of the service today. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, musical worship is as much about truth as it is about emotion. The lyrics should be biblical, and they should line up with the sermon to drive the point home. Remember, everything in the church service is designed to assist the preaching of the Word of God.

Of course, some preachers like to plan their sermon out less than a week in advance. In that case, I tend to prioritize getting a set list out at a reasonable time over coordination. Better for the set to sound good and not match than to contain distracting mistakes. Plus, if you spend time in prayer planning your set lists, I’ve found the Holy Spirit will guide you to a set that will end up working well with the sermon anyway.

3. Prepare at Home

Rehearsal is not the time to learn parts. Rehearsal is designed to get everyone on the same page and clear up any ticks. As I said earlier, the better the team knows their parts, the less work needs to be done in rehearsal. Everyone should come into rehearsal knowing their individual parts, and they should use rehearsal to figure out how to tweak what they’ve individually learned so they can come together as a team,which I’ll talk more about later.

4. Rehearse Twice

Some churches prefer to rehearse only on Sunday morning right before the service. I tend to have a problem with that: namely that if corrections need to be made during rehearsal, there’s no time for the musicians to practice that and get it in their heads before the service. If you rehearse on a Wednesday or Thursday night, you can tell your musicians what to work on before Sunday, and then rehearse it with the changes Sunday morning to make sure they’ve stuck. Hoping the musicians will remember to do what you asked them without any time to prepare it is never the best course of action. Plus, practice makes perfect, so the more practice, the better the band will be.

5. Be a Band, Not Musicians

During rehearsal, a worship leader should listen to make sure the band is playing together as a unit, not just individual parts. This is where it’s important for a worship leader to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of every instrument in the band. The number one issue that causes a band not to sound together is the percussive instruments playing different patterns. The drums, bass, acoustic guitar, and often the keys should be playing the same dynamics, playing the same rhythms and accenting the same beats. I tend to have the other instruments follow the drums on this, as it’s not as much of an ordeal to change your rhythm or accent on other instruments.

It’s also important that everyone singing harmony is together: stopping and starting at the same time, singing at the same meter, going up together and going down together (within the key of course). When a harmony is off, it becomes difficult to follow the melody, and it just sounds sloppy.

6. No Disruptive Surprises

Ad-libbing is written into the DNA of some churches. It’s considered an important part of Spirit-led worship, and I would never say you shouldn’t take the music somewhere the Holy Spirit is leading. But you have to careful about how you do it in most churches. The reason the team at Bethel can pretty much go into anything they want during worship is that their musicians are skilled enough to follow wherever the worship leader leads. If you don’t have that luxury, you may need to take some precautions. Plan to have certain instrumental stages where you may ad-lib on top of the same chords the band would already be playing. If you feel like going into another worship song during a song, either try to fit it over the chords that are already being played (you’d want to make it clear to them that this is a possibility and they can just keep on with what they’re playing so you don’t throw them off), or wait until the song drops out and you can just play what you’re feeling on your own. The last thing we want is for your musicians to be caught off guard and unsure of what to do next. I’ve seen that take the whole worship service apart before.

I hope you can see the important of excellence in worship. God absolutely deserves our best, so we need to constantly be thinking of ways we can give Him better. We’re never going to play for Him at the level He deserves, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for better. Just something to think about.

 

 

Advertisements

The Bible Doesn’t Bend to Your Will

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.'” And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

‭‭Luke‬ ‭4:1-13‬ ‭(ESV)‬‬

The political sphere this week has been full of people using the Bible to justify their own opinions. Jeff Sessions, MSNBC and lots of people having Facebook arguments have desperately searched the pages of the Word of God, in the hopes that they can explain that their position is the only morally correct one, and the others are objectively wrong.

If you’ve felt the need to do this before, you may have seen this screen:

Open Bible “100 Verses About Children”

This came from one of the first results when I Googled “Bible verses about children.” In fact, it often comes up when you Google “Bible verses about” just about anything. It’s called OpenBible.com, and if you have an opinion that you want to try to justify biblically, this is the site to use.

But there’s just one problem. You have no idea in what context any of these verses are being said when you use this site.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know few things make me angrier than Bible verses being used out of their intended contexts (see The Importance of Context and The Problem with Life Verses). You can go back and read the posts I’ve linked to get the full picture, but in short, it’s easy to interpret scripture in an incorrect way when you take it out of context. Because parables and metaphors are often used in the Bible, it’s easy to understand something differently than intended from one verse in a vacuum. For example, if I read Psalm 22:1-2 by itself, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest,” I might believe that something must be wrong with me or wrong with God if I’m not feeling relief from anguish. But reading the rest of the Psalm alone would disprove that point. 

Sure, you could use Googling verses as a starting point, and then go read those verses in context. In fact, I’d recommend that when researching any biblical topic (though a concordance is often better in those instances).

But when arguing politics, or philosophy, or other secular topics, it creates another problem. Whether it’s different tribes and races or different political perspectives, we should neither be intolerant toward them nor assume bad intentions from them. The Bible doesn’t really take a stance on a vast majority of political issues, mainly because God is a lot bigger than politics. That’s why Jesus didn’t come as a conquering hero to free the Israelites from Rome, as they expected. He was after something much, much bigger.

So now it’s time to question your intentions. If you’re in a position where you want the other person to be wrong so badly that you’re Googling “Bible verses about…”, you don’t understand why we have the Bible. It’s definitely not for your own personal gain, or so you can win arguments by playing the “God card.” I know it’s tempting. I myself have been guilty of believing that there’s no other right way to think than what I think, and I’ve tried to use the Bible to justify that (I’m sure if you look far enough back on this blog, you’ll see that).

Everyone wants to be moral, and there’s no better moral standard than the Bible to try to live up to. I don’t even have a problem with checking our beliefs against the Bible to make sure they’re moral. That’s good practice, and it keeps us striving toward our goal to being as Christ-like as physically possible.

The problem is that we do it backwards. When we see someone (especially a Christian) say something we disagree with, we should start by looking inward. We should think honestly about whether our beliefs and values line up with scripture, or if there’s a biblically correct view on it to begin with. We should ask ourselves if we are right, rather than starting from a place of assuming we’re right.

I shared the passage I shared at the top of this post because it’s a textbook example of what our argument culture looks like. Particularly in verses 9-11, Satan takes scripture out of context in order to paint himself as correct. Jesus had been using scripture (in a correct way) to argue with him and fight off temptation. Satan thought there was no way Jesus could argue if he himself exploited the Word of God. But Jesus, being the Word, understood scripture in its context, and was not fooled. Satan being on one side of this story and Jesus on the other makes it abundantly clear: it is wrong to use the Bible out of context as a weapon to support our own beliefs.

Instead of just looking for Bible verses that support our opinion, then exploiting them to call the other person morally wrong, we should look for any Bible passages dealing with the topic, look at them in their contexts, and confirm or change our views accordingly. Then, only if the other person’s belief directly and undoubtedly contradicts the truth of  God’s Word, we can use what we’ve found to correct the other person with love. Using Romans 13 to shut down any chance of debate or finding Bible verses in order to paint your opponent as a bad person is gross. Just something to think about.

The Irrational Fear of Negativity

“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”

‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭15:31-33‬ ‭(ESV)‬‬

People like to live in terms of black and white. All of the movies in our culture focus on a hero, who is inherently good, and a villain, who inherently is evil. There is good and there is bad, and everything on planet earth somehow fits into one of these categories. And we all like to think we’re good people, so if someone disagrees with the good opinions and intentions I have, then that person must be evil, or at least have some deep emotional issues that make them angry. After all, any disagreeable or negative speech must only come from a place of anger or sadness, because those are negative emotions, and therefore if anyone says anything negative to me, they’re either angry or sad. Or evil. We may acknowledge our own potential for evil in a general sense, but we dare not look for it in specific situations.

If you need proof that this is how our society thinks now, look no further than our political climate. Each side of the political aisle is completely convinced that those on the other side have bad intentions. Why? Well, my intentions are good and this is what I think, so the only way to disagree is if your intentions are bad, because everything can be broken down into black and white, compassion and bigotry, good and bad.

It’s a dangerous way of thinking that affects our schools, our relationships and, perhaps most dangerously, our churches. It starts when someone says they didn’t particularly agree with a sermon, or the worship team wasn’t quite where they should have been this morning, or the theology of a famous Christian speaker is off. That’s when the assumptions come in. It’s personal. Some negative emotion is leading this person to say negative things. They shouldn’t be saying that. We should only say positive things. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all, right?

Ephesians 4:29 is often the biblical excuse people use for this way of thinking. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Does that mean we should only say nice words to each other? The way I see it, no it doesn’t. In building someone up, the goal is to make them a better person. When I criticize Christian culture, for example, it’s in the hope that maybe someone will read it, and then choose to live their life in a more biblical way rather than blindly following a culture that has Jesus’ name stamped on it.

Yes, sometimes negative words and angry responses can be more of a problem than a solution. Anything that links disagreement with “You’re not a real Christian,” or “You’re a bad person for thinking this way,” or actions bred out of an immediate response to anger should be limited as much as physically possible. But why throw the baby out with the bathwater? The black-and-white world of everything positive being good and everything negative being bad isn’t the real world. Some of today’s Christian leaders likely would have criticized Jesus for flipping tables and calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers. This was a negative response to something Jesus saw. Was it wrong? Was it evil?

People tend to link negative speech with spiritual lacking. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, the negativity is completely justified. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of negativity to wash out the evil in our own lives. Simply encouraging everything with Jesus’ name stamped on it without pointing out room for improvement isn’t going to build anyone up, or make anyone a better Christian. Just something to think about.

 

Christian Music Isn’t Just for Worship

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

‭‭Psalm 51 (ESV)

I don’t listen to worship music much outside of church.

I play it, I write it, I’ll worship to it on Sunday, but it’s not something that’s a regular part of my life. I don’t tend to enjoy the Christian music you hear on the radio or in church.

My favorite Christian band is The Classic Crime.

You won’t hear their music on K-Love. They’ve probably played in more bars than churches. No one is lifting their hands to their music. And yet, I tend to find their songs a better picture of Christianity than a lot of music that’s more explicitly Christian.

Why is that? Well, as I’ve mentioned in the past, most media that is explicitly Christian has a strange positivity complex. God always makes everything okay 100% of the time in most worship songs. Thinking about God in those terms may make sense on the floor of a church, as we should worship God for His love for us and for who He is and what He can do. But when you’re out in the world, and you need music that’s cathartic and actually fits what you see in your life, that kind of music doesn’t cut it. After all, God’s will isn’t always to do just what we want.

Apart from the Bible, the Classic Crime is the source from which I’ve learned the most about where I stand in my walk with God. It’s true to life, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be explicitly Christian to achieve that.

Some of my other favorite bands include The Maine, Dryjacket, Yellowcard, Anberlin, and all of these have been a positive influence on my life and my walk with God. And yet only one of them even passively mentions God on a regular basis.

When you look through the Psalms, you see all kinds of emotions toward God on display. Most of those emotions are positive ones, some of them are not, some of them start negative and gradually grow positive. But all of them are honest expressions. Sometimes honesty is more important than forcing yourself to say words you don’t 100% believe at the time.

There are two kinds of Christians who tell you what music to listen to: those who say you should only listen to Christian music and those who say it doesn’t matter what you listen to. I’m in the middle on that debate.

My wife is a music therapist, and she could tell you better than I could that what you listen to affects your emotions, your vocabulary, and even the way you think about life. You should absolutely be careful about what you let into your mind. No matter how much you want to say you just listen for fun and you won’t let it get to your head, the inherent nature of music is to influence the way you think. God created it that way (prime example is 1 Samuel 16).

BUT….Christian music is not the only music you should able to listen to as a Christian. As a worship leader, I’ve listened to a lot of Christian music. It’s usually simple, shallow, and never designed to challenge the way we think or connect with our darkest moments. Those few bands full of Christians that aren’t Christian bands are probably our best resources during those timed, but anything relatively wholesome that can connect with those parts of you without leading to sin should be encouraged. We’re not one-dimensional God-loving human beings. Sometimes the Christian life is hard. Sometimes we wish God weren’t doing the thing’s He’s doing. That’s okay to express, and it doesn’t happen through most worship music. Just something to think about.

Selfish Christianity

Therefore at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and maliciously accused the Jews. They declared to King Nebuchadnezzar, “O king, live forever! You, O king, have made a decree, that every man who hears the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, shall fall down and worship the golden image. And whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into a burning fiery furnace. There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:8-18‬ ‭(ESV‬‬)

I want you to honestly answer one question right now: How much of your life (your values, your career, your hobbies, your social life, what you watch on television, everything) would be different if you weren’t a Christian? I don’t just mean in terms of sin either: I mean everything you would or wouldn’t do. How much does it affect your values, your political beliefs, your personality?

If most young people are honest with themselves, it probably isn’t much. Our public personas change quite a bit as  Christians, but most of us still consider our private lives to be no one’s business but our own. Those changes that we do make, we often make right as we become Christians, thinking we’re set and never changing again. In essence, even as Christians, we often find ourselves hoping God will leave us alone, not changing much of anything, at least not completely.

In fact, many of us spend our time hoping that God will just answer our prayers, give us what we want, and then wait to do anything else until we need something again. We’ll spare him a thought occasionally, or we’ll say our nightly prayers, read our Bibles and all the other Christian disciplines, but we don’t want Him to invade the aspects of our lives we don’t center around Him.

This is evident in the Christian movies and music we take in as well. The hottest Christian movies right now (with the exception of Paul) have a tendency to lean toward the “Jesus always makes everything okay” mentality. A majority of the top Christian songs on Billboard mainly just focus on worshiping God for what He’s done and can do for us, not simply for who He is.

Answer another question for me, honestly: Why is God worthy of our worship? When you worship, what do you find yourself thinking about? Many of us would say that He’s worthy of our worship because He sent Jesus to die on the cross and save us from our sin. That’s absolutely true, and it’s a wonderful thing He did. We should absolutely sing worship songs that talk about that.

But even if He’d never sent Jesus, or protected Israel, or ever had anything to do with mankind, He would still be  worthy of our worship just because of who He is. He is the creator of the universe, with infinite power and wisdom. He is righteous, He is just, and He is holy, and He still decided to love us when He didn’t have to just because of who He is. And that’s exactly why He did send Jesus. He’s not simply worthy of our worship because He sent Jesus. He sent Jesus because He’s the kind of God that is worthy of our worship. And I don’t see people talking about that often enough.

The attitude of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego wasn’t necessarily just one of faith. They weren’t 100% sure God would save them from that fire (“even if He doesn’t”). It honestly didn’t matter to them whether God saved them. He was still worthy of their worship, even to death.

Yes, we know how the story ends. They weren’t hurt by the fire. God did help them. But there are plenty of circumstances in the Bible in which God doesn’t help those who ask for it. Look at John the Baptist, for one. Paul spent most of his life rotting in prison. Many of the disciples were executed, and only one survived. God has His own reasons for stepping in or not stepping in. So basing your love and admiration for God on what He can do for you is ignoring God’s inherent worthiness.

This isn’t necessarily one of those close-handed issues. I’m not saying you’re going to hell if you only see God in terms of what Jesus did. That’s not my decision to make. But John 10 says that Jesus came so we may have life and have it abundantly. Abundantly is a great word. The dictionary definition is “present in great quantity; more than adequate; oversufficient.” Apart from God, we don’t have a chance to live a truly abundant life. God Himself is what creates that abundance in our lives. But as Christians who believe that, shouldn’t we want to dive deeper into that? Shouldn’t we want the most abundant life possible? The more of ourselves, our worldly pleasures and our internal desires we lay aside, and the more we lay aside our own values, opinions and beliefs in favor of the objective good God lays out in His Word, the more abundant our lives can be. When we only ask for God’s help, the center of our world is ourselves. When that center is God, and our own ends are less important, we can see what the word “life” really means. Just something to think about.

The Case for Hiring a Professional Church Sound Tech

In 2014, I spent a summer working as an audio engineer at Student Life Camps (a job for which I was vastly under-qualified, by the way). The standards were incredibly high for every member of the team. If we didn’t execute like we were working a Led Zeppelin concert, we got an earful afterward, and I can’t say I blame anyone for that particular mindset.

As I alluded to last week, this thirst for professionalism is a good thing. This is more the case in sound than anything. There’s an old cliché among us sound technicians: “No one notices the sound guy until he does something wrong.” And that’s true. Among worship leaders, if there’s a mistake, we can visibly see them bounce back and clearly hear their correction. If something goes wrong in the sound booth, you just remember the mistake. Either way, the mistake causes a distraction, but when it’s the sound guy, there’s no real closure to the distraction. The untrained ear doesn’t know what caused the mistake, and they aren’t sure whether the issue was solved or, for example, they will hear feedback again soon.

And let’s not forget the issues caused by an untrained ear being behind the sound board. When mistakes are made and distractions are caused, someone without an intimate knowledge of audio may not be able to find the source, probably won’t be able to fix it, and in some cases, the person may not know something is going wrong to begin with.

This is why I think every church should have one professional sound technician on payroll. This person wouldn’t have to do sound every week, and could train others to fill in in the event of his absence, and this person could train people to use the board during other events, but someone needs to be in charge of the signal flow. Someone needs to be in the church that knows audio in and out, and can understand every single part of your sound system. When that’s not the case, you just create more and more reasons for people not to be able to attend or accept the contemporary church.

Volume

Sunday morning church is not a concert. Therefore, it should be kept at a pretty reasonable volume. The number one complaint I hear from people who visit a contemporary church for the first time is that it was “too loud” for them to want to come back. Now, is this sometimes just a remark based on experience in the traditional church? Maybe. But lots of worship service are kept at concert volumes. If you show up late to church, you can hear the bass from the edge of the parking lot. This is a problem for a church that wants to get people through the door to begin or improve their relationship with Christ.

There’s another issue to look at here too. The tendency among some sound techs (even the professional ones) is to turn up the sub-woofer until you feel the kick drum in your heartbeat. This is extremely problematic if you actually want to open your church up to everyone, as you should. Research shows that these loud sub-woofers can actually change some people’s heartbeats. This can, understandably, cause problems for people with heart conditions. We don’t want to exclude these people from church just because we like loud music. Save it for concerts.

EQ & Compression

I can’t count on both hands the number of times I’ve heard a volunteer sound tech say “I don’t mess with those other knobs. I don’t know what they do. I just change the volume.” EQ & compression are perhaps the most important parts of mixing music. We hear because the sound is moving to us in waves, with those waves moving largely in different frequencies than they are coming out of the singer’s voice. There will always be a huge difference between the vocal cords and the speakers. Usually when speakers feed back, they’re feeding back at a particular set of frequencies. This is why EQ exists. EQ and compression (basically) control the volume of specific frequencies compared to others.

This is extremely important, because it’s controlling the frequencies that decides whether the sound we hear is pleasant or harsh. Many of the volume complaints about the drums, for instance, are less due to the volume and more due to what frequencies are allowed to dominate from the cymbals. This is made even worse when you consider hearing disorders like hyperacusis, Meniere’s disease other diseases that actually cause you pain when certain sound wave frequencies overpower (you can read more about that here).

You need someone with the ear and the knowledge to understand exactly what frequencies are coming out of those speakers and correct any issues.

Troubleshooting

Going back to my drums analogy from earlier, lots of people in contemporary complain that the drums are too loud when they actually aren’t. The volume is just fine, but the frequencies coming off the cymbals are so harsh they cause headaches. Many churches have decided that it’s the fault of the drums themselves. They start reasonably enough, moving the drums behind a shield, in case the problem is that the sound is coming both from the stage and from the speakers. That’s a good start. But when that doesn’t work, they put the drums in a cage. And then when that doesn’t work – the dreaded electric drumset. Trust me, you don’t want an electric drumset. No synthesized instrument in history sounds faker than an electric drumset.

A professional sound technician knows that the frequencies are the problem, not the volume. With some EQ, compression and a gate, that problem could go away fairly quickly.

Professional sound technicians have the ear and the know-how to fix sound-related issues before you spend thousands of dollars because you’ve assumed your sound board must be the problem. They’re fixed before you repeatedly ask your lead guitarist to buy a new guitar because it “just doesn’t sound right.” And they’re fixed before they do real harm to your congregation.

I know that money is an issue, and not every church can afford to pay a professional. But at least find a way to get your sound techs some proper sound training. Because, as I alluded to last week, you can tell the difference between Sunday church and a professional conference. Both the sound quality and the atmosphere of worship are better. Don’t tell me that’s just a coincidence.

Once I finally learned how to translate what I was hearing into what to do on the sound board, something changed about the Student Life Camps I was running sound for.  The worship had a noticeably different feeling. The worship bands weren’t spending hours in a rehearsal with me getting the mix right, so they were able to lead genuinely. The congregation wasn’t distracted by what they were hearing. The quality of the performers AND the quality of the sound coming out made a difference in the worship. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, excellence brings glory to God far, far better than mediocrity. Just something to think about.

Worship Should Mean Something (Part Three)

This is part three of a three-part series. To catch up, click here to read last week’s post.

Worship should mean something. The songs should mean something, the order should mean something, and our execution should mean something. Worship is sacred: we are entering the presence of God, and as worship leaders, we should respect it as such.

The best way  to respect it? Well, we know the Philippians 4:8 drill by now:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

True

We discussed picking true, biblical songs last week, but it’s also important to keep biblical truth in mind when we pray or ad-lib. When we’re in front of a microphone,  not everything that comes across our mind is useful for worship. Sometimes those additional lyrics or the prayer at the end of a worship set can be a great time to speak biblical truth, but it does have to be biblically true. Prayer is a more honest, emotional experience, so sometimes it is better just to speak what’s on your mind, as vulnerability and honesty can really grow a connection with God. But singing whatever pops into your head may not be the most useful thing. Musical worship isn’t just about response: it’s also an opportunity for many who don’t understand the Word of God to hear the truth. Therefore, if we’re not sure we’re speaking truth, it can be detrimental to the atmosphere of worship.

Honorable

Let us not respond to the worship in a dishonest way in the hopes that our congregation would respond more, and let us not ask the congregation to respond in a dishonest way. It’s really obvious when you’re faking it. Now, as the worship leaders, we should always try to respond to worship as an example. But if you aren’t feeling lifting your hands, or dancing, or clapping, then don’t.

Another thing I’ve seen everywhere is worship leaders asking their congregation to respond in a certain way. “Let’s clap our hands.” “Let’s sing this with our hands lifted up.” “Lift up a shout of praise.” These are all legitimate forms of worship, sure, but they shouldn’t be forced. Rather, if we worship in these ways as the Holy Spirit leads us to, the congregation will follow as the Holy Spirit leads them. Dishonest worship is not worship.

Just

Let’s be fair to the other members of our worship team and to our congregation. We can make sure of this in several ways that I’ll bullet out here:

  • Don’t suddenly change plans. If you plan on going into a different part of the song, find a way to communicate that with the team. It may even be helpful to say where you’re going into the microphone, as that would benefit both your team and the congregation. Saying “Sing it’s your breath” before going into the chorus of “Great Are You Lord is a lot more helpful than just going into it and leaving your team lost and your congregation behind. If the Holy Spirit is leading you to a different song not in the set list, it’s okay to go up to your team and inform them during a quiet moment of a set list. If it’s one your team may not do often, it may be helpful just to have them back off while you lead the new song.
  • Be aware of who is assigned to lead. If you’ve assigned someone to lead a song, or if you’re a worship leader and someone else has been assigned to lead a song, that person should be fully trusted with it. Do harmony, by all means, but don’t take the song from them.
  • Watch the congregation before you decide whether you will continue a song further. If people seem to really be responding, especially to a part of the song, it’s beneficial to play that out and repeat it. If you go into a lull and you can tell it’s time to move on, move on. Don’t force a continuation because you feel like there’s more to get out of a song, and don’t move on just because the song is over in the recording. Remember, the most important thing is your congregation’s worship experience.

Pure

Simple enough: as my tagline says, question your intentions. Why are you doing what you’re doing in worship? Like I said above, it’s obvious when someone is faking it. Some people fake it with good intentions, and others fake it to be seen as a really good worship leader. Any thought in your head during musical worship that is not focused on God should be set aside. In the same way, you shouldn’t do anything that distracts your congregation. I understand that everyone has their style of worship, but the Holy Spirit doesn’t lead us as worship leaders to do anything detrimental. If you’re constantly moving around the stage, throwing ad-libs into songs other people are leading or finding ways to show off your vocal range during worship, maybe you need to check yourself. You may not be acting on the purest of intentions.

Lovely

Know your limits. Music is powerful, and when used to foster an atmosphere of worship, a pleasant sound can make all the difference. So don’t treat your sound technicians like afterthoughts. They are just as much a part of the worship team as you are, if not more. And while they’re really in control of how everything sounds put together, each individual should do their part to make his/her job easier. Keep the volume of your vocals in mind, pick guitar effects that blend well with the song, use pads and synths that are pleasant to the ears, and know your limits as a vocalist. If you can’t reach a note without a crack in your voice, or if you can’t perform certain actions without jumping off pitch, then make note of that. We need to sound our best.

Commendable, Excellent, Worthy of Praise

God calls us to excellent. Therefore, we should be excellent when leading others into His presence. If you’re just skating by from week to week, you’re doing it wrong. Practice your parts, rehearse with your team, find new ways to execute your songs better. If your first experience with a song is walking into weekly rehearsal, you need to find a way to improve. That’s mediocrity. Practice produces excellence, which leads to a lack of mistakes. A lack of mistakes leads to a lack of distractions. A lack of distractions leads to a genuine type of  worship in which we can just commune with God, sing of his greatness, reflect on his goodness, and bask in the presence of His Holy Spirit.

Worship should mean something. And as worship leaders, it is our responsibility, not just to make the words we sing mean something, but to help the congregation respond in a way that means something. The less thought we put into our worship, the more glory that God deserves we keep from him. Just something to think about.

 

Worship Should Mean Something (Part Two)

This is part two of a three-part series. If you missed last week’s, click here.

How do you plan your set lists? Maybe you throw songs together that seem like they fit the message. Maybe you just look through your library and see what you haven’t played in a while. Maybe you don’t plan at all and just let the Holy Spirit lead you in. I’m not here to tell you how to plan your sets.

But I will tell you that you need to make sure your set list sets the best atmosphere possible for worship. I’ve seen a transition that wasn’t thought through or a song that seemed out of place take people completely out of their element in worship. We need to make sure that our set lists have a purpose, and we can use the criteria from Philippians 4:8 to do just that. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

True

Every song you pick must line up with scripture. Any praise for God or response to God that is unbiblical won’t come from the Holy Spirit. And especially since the words to a song are an opportunity to preach the Word of God into someone’s life, a biblical base is crucial.

This doesn’t mean you can only lead songs that come directly from the Bible, but it’s helpful not to, for example, play a song like Gungor’s “Brother Moon,” which has pretty lyrics but makes no biblical sense.

In the end, you need to make sure every song you lead has a point, and that said point is based on scripture.

Honorable

It is unethical to lead a song you don’t believe in, or that you doubt the congregation will respond to. The goal of leading worship is to get your congregation to worship. If they won’t honestly respond to a song you’ve picked, then don’t play it.

This also means knowing when to only play a song once. So many worship leaders will introduce a song to the congregation with a full plan on when and how often they will lead it. I’ve personally seen a worship leader continue to lead a song he liked that got no response. That’s not okay. Know your congregation, and don’t plan a song they never respond to.

Just

Like I said last week, it is moral to make sure the worship is focused on God. The lyrics of a song you pick should therefore be focused on God. Too much first person is a killer of worship, as I said last week.

Another consideration is whether your set allows your worship team to serve to the fullest of their ability. One of my main problems with heavily synthy songs is that it either removes the need for one instrument, or worse, people continue using the unneeded instrument anyway and add unnecessary layers. Make sure your songs have something for all of your different parts to do, so your team can serve the Lord along with you, as they want to do. If another person leads with you, make sure they have ample opportunity to do so as well.

Pure

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people play secular songs in church, hoping that will draw a crowd in. That’s disgusting. Worship is all about honoring God, and Justin Bieber doesn’t do that. Worship keeps people focused on the Word of God, and Lady Gaga doesn’t exactly have the same effect. We need to treat our worship services like what they are: a sacrifice to the Lord. Therefore, anything that doesn’t honor God needs to be removed.

This also should lead you to question why you’re picking the songs you’re picking. Are you picking them because you think they would foster an atmosphere of worship, or are you just picking them because you like them, or they have impressive parts for you to play?

Lovely

Keeping up with last week, the songs you pick should sound good. Too much synth, too many moving parts or a melody line that’s difficult to follow can hurt the way people worship. I would especially be hesitant to use synth instruments, as some people in your congregation may suffer from hyperacusis, which can literally give someone in your congregation a headache just from the sound of a 1970’s synthesizer. You want your worship music to be pleasing to your congregation’s ears so they can focus on worshiping God themselves.

Commendable, Excellent, Worthy of Praise

You should pick songs that take some skill to play, and that your worship team can play well. And there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye.

The number one mistake I see worship leaders make in this regard is that they fail to listen to the drum part of a song before introducing it. Drums are unbelievably difficult, and I tip my hat to all of you who play them. If you’re not sure if a song is too difficult for your drummer, I would literally ask him to listen to it and tell me if he’d be able to play before I even brought it up to the rest of the team.

People also don’t tend to think about harmony in songs. Some people need the harmony clearly defined in a song in order to execute it well. Your guitar player may need several weeks in advance to master a particular lead pattern. There are tons of things to think about in this respect, but it makes the worship so much better when everyone is playing well. Any mistake can lead to a distraction. Always make sure to rehearse. Don’t even leave the smallest chance that a song won’t executed well. I’ve replaced a new song in a set list with an older one everyone knew like backs of their hands because we weren’t executing well in rehearsal before. It’s that important.

Planning the set list should be the hardest part of leading worship. It is the moment in which you decide how your congregation will collectively respond to what God does. It can make or break the worship service, and so it requires massive amounts of thought, prayer and work to make it happen. Just something to think about.

Worship Should Mean Something (Part One)

Musical worship is a beautiful thing. When done properly, it’s one of the most direct connections we can have with the Holy Spirit. Our emotions and the truth of God combine as we celebrate who He is and reflect on the grace He has shown us.

Musical worship can leave people feeling dull and dry, however. You can execute perfectly and lift hands all over the place, but if the worship doesn’t mean anything, then the worship leader has failed at his/her job.

It’s hard to criticize the way others lead worship sometimes. People will say “Well that’s how they worship!” So I want to be very clear. My goal is help you keep the congregation focused on God during worship. Some forms of worship, even maybe a couple of genuine ones, don’t do that.

I wanted to begin by focusing on the process of writing a worship song. Writing offers a chance to show people a new way of looking at some aspect of God’s character, or a new way to respond to His Word. New songs should be encouraged more throughout the church: it can create a more authentic atmosphere of worship.

But the song has to mean something. If you’re just introducing a bunch of meaningless shallow words to your congregation, it may get stuck in their head, but it won’t get them closer to God.

If you’re wondering how to tell if you’re writing a worship song that actually has meaning, follow Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

True

The most important aspect of a worship song is its truth. If your song doesn’t line up with Scripture, it’s just words. One good example of this is Michael W Smith’s “Surrounded (Fight My Battles)”. This is every set of lyrics in the song:

It may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.

 

This is how I fight my battles.

It’s hard to tell what “this” is in the song, because it’s the first lyric you hear. But based on the other lyric in the song, it’s that we sort of hide ourselves in God and he takes care of everything for us. This doesn’t line up with scripture whatsoever. Ephesians 6 speaks exactly of how we fight our battles, and while God certainly gives us the tools, he doesn’t fight them for us. The other implication you could take from the song is that we fight our battles in worship, but that line of logic has the same issue.

This song was played at a night of worship I recently attended, and I felt nothing. Some people did, and that’s fine. But there was definitely more to be done.

Look at why “Oceans” has endured for so long. Or “Revelation Song.” Or “How Great is Our God.” They all have a clear Biblical basis to work from, and the words are factually true and have greater meaning because of it.

Honorable

This is the emotional mirror of truth. We need to be honest in our worship songs. If we’re writing just to string words together that sound good to get a song done, then the song doesn’t mean anything. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 tells us that doing anything without love is just noise. If we can’t be vulnerable and honest with the congregations we’re leading, how can we expect the worship to be honest?

Just

Just basically means morally fair. In worship, it is just for us to not spend a lot of time focusing on ourselves, because God deserves our attention. Worship songs in the first person aren’t a great attitude for worship, unless you’re talking about yourself in reference to what God has done for you. Worship is a time for us to honor God, and our lyrics should reflect that by making Him the primary focus. Too much first person means you’re focusing on yourself, and not on God.

Pure

If something is pure, that means it’s not mixed with or tainted by another material. We can make our music impure by writing melody lines that show off our vocals, or lyrics that we hope make us sound clever, or instrumentals that make us seem musically gifted. We are using our gifts to bring the focus to God. Writing part of a song that’s designed to bring attention to yourself is selfish and prideful. Every part of your song should move people to focus on what God has done.

Other worship leaders can impurify their songs by following a template that tends to make people raise their hands or respond in certain ways. You can manipulate people with just a build and a bass line. That shouldn’t be the intended goal.

Lovely

This goes without saying, but your song should sound pleasant. People have different opinions of what they enjoy, but most people don’t enjoy obnoxious synth or over-distorted guitars. If the goal is to use the song in worship, make sure the song itself isn’t distracting to worshipers.

Commendable, Excellent, Worthy of Praise

You may think this conflict with the Pure point. It doesn’t.

Excellence should always be our goal. And in writing our instrumental and vocal lines, they should be written in such a way that a worship team could perform them with excellence. This usually means your lines shouldn’t be so difficult that most people couldn’t replicate them, but they also shouldn’t be so simple that I can give a guitar to a five-year-old and have him play it. There is a delicate balance. Somewhere in the middle, there is a skillfully played song that doesn’t require showing off to execute.

You may think that’s an awful lot to think about when writing a worship song. Maybe you want to just listen to the Holy Spirit and see what song He gives you. I actually agree with that method. Here’s the thing: the Holy Spirit will not give you a song that doesn’t meet these six criteria. Thinking of these will simply allow you to discern whether the song you’re writing is from the Holy Spirit, or just from your flesh. Just something to think about.

What Wrestling Can Teach Us (Part Five)

DISCLAIMER: I’d usually put a Bible quote in here, but this one isn’t actually about Jesus. It’s more of an emerging problem in our culture at large than just Christian culture, but I thought it was worth talking about. Cheerio.

 

hqdefault

Sometimes being a wrestling fan gets boring. We feel like we’ve seen every story the wrestlers are playing out over and over again. Sometimes it seems feuds were built via copying and pasting something else and putting different names in.

And then the company surprises us with something like NXT Takeover: Philadelphia, one of the rare events in which the stories aren’t told on the microphone or through ridiculous backstage segments, but in the process of the match itself. This event wasn’t just full of creative stories, but creative wrestling.

Everyone thinks the best match of the night was the NXT Championship match between Andrade Almas and Johnny Gargano. Just about everyone who gives out ratings for matches gave this match a perfect five stars, and it’s full of athletic feats, but it wasn’t even my favorite match of the night.

My favorite match was the Women’s Championship match between Sailor Moon fanatic Ember Moon and former UFC fighter Shayna Baszler. This match was just so different from any other I’d seen that I thought it’d get some recognition.

For those who aren’t wrestling fans, let me explain how a match like this would usually work: the tougher, “evil” wrestler (Shayna Baszler in this case) would wear down the more acrobatic “good” one (Ember Moon) for most of the match. Just when it looks like the bad guy is about to win, the good guy makes a Superman-like comeback, hits their big finishing move, and wins the match.

That didn’t happen here. Baszler used her MMA experience to basically try to rip Moon’s already-injured arm off for about ten minutes. Then instead of making a big heroic comeback, Moon used her intelligence. She used Baszler’s lack of WWE experience against her, and while her arm was still locked in the submission, she rolled Baszler over on her back, and before Baszler realized what happened, the referee had counted to three.

I really enjoyed this change of pace. Usually it’s the bad guys who are outsmarting the good guys, but this match not only worked in reverse, but told a really interesting and different story in doing so.

So, what’s my point?

I recently sat in on an inspirational speech given at one of the schools I work for. This speaker was a black female engineer, and she told everyone that “You can’t be what you don’t see,” referring to the idea that women don’t want to be engineers because they don’t see many of them, therefore extrapolating that people are only able to do what they have seen other people (and specifically other people who look like them) do.

I couldn’t help but think, Let’s ask Neil Armstrong if he ever saw someone walk on the moon. Let’s ask Jackie Robinson if he played baseball because he saw other men of color in professional baseball. Let’s ask Marie Curie if she looked up to any female physicists growing up.

 

When people criticize WWE’s storytelling and come up with their own solutions, they often look at things through one lens. They want the company to look like New Japan, or some other independent promotion. It’s the only solution they can come up with, so anything else the company does will be rejected. I honestly think this is why a match that wasn’t Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler was given five stars that night.

In the same way, people who say a certain group of people isn’t joining a certain job field because they don’t see people like them in that field must be seeing things through only one lens: namely the lens of race, gender or other pointless identifiers.

But if the speaker were to take that lens off, she might see other reasons for her issue. Pop culture is pretty adverse to STEM-related media, for example. Sci-Fi is nowhere near the phenomenon it used to be. The Big Bang Theory is the closest thing to a STEM show we get on television, and it makes the scientists look like a joke. TV shows geared toward little girls sure don’t show an interest in science (and that doesn’t necessarily need to change, as little girls just typically aren’t into that stuff). That alone could be a significant factor over just an apparent refusal to pioneer something.

The message of our culture has changed. It used to be “You can be anything you want.” Now it’s become “You can be anything that you’ve seen someone else be.” I don’t like that change. American society has removed all barriers to success. The only thing slowing anyone down is themselves. Instead of encouraging young people to follow other people’s paths, let’s encourage young people to be pioneers, to be listed in history as a “First.” Just something to think about.

Scripture matters more than your feelings.