Friday, December 4, 2015

Handling Criticism

I remember an episode of the old T.V. show the X-files where a genie was granting wishes to Agent Mulder. Mulder wished for world peace and ‘poof’, the genie granted his wish by removing all the people from the world. I’ve heard it said that ministry would be easy if it weren’t for the people.

The riskiest land mines I travail in my worship ministry are critics. They can feel like they are everywhere.  I don’t have all the answers, but I would like to share with you the things that I’ve learned over the years. But before I do, let’s lay down a necessary foundation.

I need to ensure that I’m not living in a ‘glass house’. A ‘glass house’ would be a place where I’m NOT open to being wrong or humble enough to look at my weaknesses. This will take a lot of ‘house cleaning’ for most of us. It takes humility to be willing to look at our weaknesses and admit we might have some improvements to work on.  Find wise loving people in your life and ask them the hard questions about yourself. Weigh what they say and if their feedback is found credible, implement change. If you make this a life practice, you’ll get to the point where you can walk in confidence knowing that it will be difficult for a critic to ‘blind side’ you with a valid criticism.

Once we are out of the ‘glass house’, we are free to deal with the critic. The first thing I’ve learned is to express appreciation and empathy. I have found that empathy can defuse a confrontation and prevent it from going nuclear. Put yourself in your critic’s shoes and at least imagine how they might be feeling, automatically assuming their criticism is true. And most importantly, love your critic. Pray for their best even if they present themselves as your enemy.

One essential thing I’ve learned to do with my critic is to determine if they are open or closed. I can quickly determine if a person is open simply by asking them WHY they hold their position. Open people use reason to support their positions. If a person is open, then they are the easiest to work with. Simply ask them their reasoning, give them your reasoning and both of you can see whose reasons ‘weigh’ more.

If the critic can’t give a reason, maybe when pressed you find them simply regurgitating their original criticism, then that critic is closed. Closed people draw conclusions often because of their own psychology, not because of reality. In this case, I will simply thank them for expressing their ‘concern’, make sure they know I love them and walk away. I may even have to inform them that we will have to agree to disagree but in that case, I will have to resist telling them why. You may have to employ ambiguity here. Fortunately, this can be easy to do because closed people don’t tend to go deep, they are often presumptuous. Therefore you can say something ambiguous without betraying your integrity. One general example might be, “I’ll look into it”. This is honest, as you’ll see below, but it doesn’t plumb the depths.

So I’m not necessarily ‘blowing off’ the critic. They may be right but they are not open enough to tell me why. I have made the mistake many times in the past of pressing in with questions to seek clarity, only to come up short with frustration on both sides, fracturing relations with the critic.

I have found that closed people tend to misunderstand a search for clarity with being ‘defensive’. You can’t win with these folks. So if what they are saying is not clear, don’t press it. And don’t feel guilty. The critic is really cutting off the conversation not you. You may be very interested in what they are saying or genuinely not understand them, but they close off your ability to go deeper to find clarity or a solution.

I was once given the criticism from a closed critic that when I lead worship, I often missed lyrics. Given the circumstances, I was perplexed at this so I started asking questions. Thankfully I could ask other people questions about this subject. As a result I was able to find that the real problem was that the multimedia person was not putting up the correct lyrics to our songs.

If I can’t definitively disagree with the critic, yet they are ill equipped to give me their reasoning, I have a circle of close friends who are Christ followers, and musicians with whom I can consult. Sometimes they can give me the detailed reasons the critic couldn’t give me and I can actually make a change for the better.

The insecure leader will interpret critical thinking as criticism. - Andy Stanley

If the closed person I'm describing is your boss, then beware. Everything I'm saying is greatly complicated and your ministry is at great risk. You can't simply smile and walk away in the long term sense. It is even more critical that you find others who can help illuminate. The best advice I can offer in these situations is that you do NOT try and seek clarity with these leaders. Without clarity, you are left with having to pick the interpretation of their directions that you think is best and run with and hope that if it is not what they want then at THAT point you can gain more clarity. If your boss is closed minded, try to hide any disagreement, keep your head down. "Shut up and color" is what they say. This is a very unfortunate situation. Look for the exit doors if no one with greater power can change things on this front.

In closing, here are some scriptures to support these points:

  • “….first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  – Matthew 7:5 (NIV)
  •  “….do not throw your pearls before swine….” - Matthew 7:6 (NIV)
  • “….the prudent hold their tongues”.  Proverbs 10:19 (NIV)
  • “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” – Proverbs 19:20 (NIV)

I have made many mistakes when being confronted by critics. But I always try to never ‘waste a mistake’. If I only would have known some of the things I share with you here, I think I could have extended many ministry opportunities in my life and more importantly, preserved relationships. Be willing to stare your weaknesses in the eye without flinching, meet people where they are, yet never push people beyond where they can go and most importantly love them. This is the way of Christ.

10 Things Worship Leaders Would Like Their Church to Know About Worship Leading

As a worship leader, there are things I sometimes wish my church understood about my ministry.
  1. Churches often don’t know the prep time it takes behind the scenes. The church sees the worship team on Sunday mornings but most worship teams have at least an hour-long mid-week rehearsal and a sound check/run-through before service. The worship leader also does the footwork of picking out the songs, rounding up charts, MP3s, and communicating them to the team. Many worship leaders use multitracks, downloading them or even making them to add to the sound of the group. Setting them up for control can be a little bit of a challenge if they are using a controller pedal into a laptop. The individuals on the team may often practice their parts before the mid-week rehearsal if they’re really on their game. 
  1. Vocals might be the most important vehicle for carrying the message, but the drums and bass are musically the most important musical contributors for most modern styles. If a vocalist calls in sick, it’s usually not such a big deal but if a drummer or bassist does, I’m on the phone or looking for my drum machine unless we are going for more of a “stripped down” acoustic sound.
  1. Sometimes decisions have to be based upon what FITS the style(s) for the worship service. You may love hand bells, or you may be a great classical pianist, both perfect for a more traditional service, but they may not work well for non-traditional styles.
  1. Sometimes fulfilling a member of the congregation’s preferences is the worst thing a church can do if it wants to survive and thrive. If a church is stagnant or declining, sometimes this is because the leadership has been listening to the preferences of the congregation. Sometimes the congregation has been getting exactly what they want and THAT is the problem. Sometimes churches develop cultures that are alien to the culture(s) outside its walls. If such a church is going to reach folks outside of those walls, it may have to sacrifice its preferences in order to reach others. Such sacrifice does NOT equal a compromise of doctrine.
  1. The worship leader and worship band often can’t tell when the house volume is too loud. A worship team doesn’t hear what the congregation hears. The team has a separate monitoring system.
  1. Excellence isn’t inherently a performance. It is a result of substituting distractions with inspiration. Yes sometimes a worship team mistakes worship for entertainment. Yes sometimes team members strive for excellence in order to garner attention and to “show off.” But a lack of excellence on a worship team, aside from the fact that it violates the picture of worship Scripture gives us in the story of Cain & Abel, and Psalm 33:3, can be a distraction. When a person is flat or off beat, it is hard to focus on God.
    Striving for excellence also increases the “carrying capacity” of the music. By carrying capacity, I’m referring to the music’s ability to carry the authentic heartfelt emotion of a healthy worshiper. In the end, it is always up to the worshiper to engage, not the worship leader. We can hinder worship, but we can’t force it.
  1. You can’t ask a worship leader to do a good job without at least RISKING people getting hurt. Excellence costs. Sometimes the only way a worship team can improve is to ask its members to look at their weaknesses and try to address them. If for instance, a vocalist is consistently flat, she might have to be told so while offering a way to address it via lessons or practice. Some people can humbly grow from such critiques while others go into defense mode. Pride is ultimately the reason anyone might adopt the latter attitude. Pride comes before a fall and humility before an ascension. This principle transcends music, overflowing into our Spiritual lives.
  1. Leaders in particular, don’t simply tell us you want us to lead “x” style. It’s often more complicated than that. When you say “contemporary,” you may very well mean something different than we do. Leaders, I suggest you start a dialogue and go deeper to avoid such pitfalls.
  1. Worship can include music but shouldn’t be reduced to it. Our language is confusing when we start the music portion of the service and then say something like, “let’s stand and worship.” Music is but one picture of worship. Worship is 24/7 and is defined in Romans 12:1-2. Worship isn’t simply what we do on Sundays but it is the very breath a believer breathes. It is purpose by another name.
  1. Most of our job consists of working with and leading people. However, the music component is more important than you might realize. The most difficult challenges most of us face as worship leaders isn’t the music, it is the people. The people are the reason we lead worship, specifically connecting them to God. As a result, a worship leader needs to be good with people to be effective.
    However, I think many people in the church underestimate the importance of the music component of the job. This is easy to do because if a worship leader is musically strong, their skills and knowledge can often become invisible. The pitfalls of a worship leader not having their musical skillset aren’t always obvious.
    For instance, a worship leader who has strong musical knowledge can communicate better (thanks to the language of music theory). As a result, rehearsals can be much shorter and less frustrating to the worship team as well.
    The better a worship leader is at music, the less they have to practice. Said another way, the more one practices music, the less one has to practice songs. As a result, a musically strong worship leader will be more relaxed and be more effective in other areas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Another "Why People Aren't Singing" Article

If you’re a worship leader or Pastor, you’ve likely seen rants (disguised as blogs) on ‘why aren’t people singing’ in church. I don’t think anyone has all the answers but for what it’s worth, here is what I’ve observed.

First the Obvious

Let’s get these out of the way. Most every worship leader knows that people will not sing if they don’t know the songs, the songs are too difficult, they are presented in a style that is foreign to the culture or the songs are too high. These are the obvious things.


If we major on the obvious, we risk rendering ourselves irrelevant. So yes worship leaders, we need to get these things right and just because they are obvious, doesn’t mean they aren’t important. But these are prerequisites. These things can all be in place yet people still might not sing. So what are the less obvious reasons people might not sing?

It LOOKS Like A Show

Don't get me wrong, it may BE a show if the worship team is bringing the wrong attitude to the platform (notice I don't call it a stage). Bright lights, smoke machines, camera crews and big screens don't help the case here but that doesn't necessarily mean these things are bad. But even without these things, some people simply associate a band (especially a good one) as being a performance. Why? Because that's what they hear OUTSIDE the church. Inside, they expect mediocrity. That's unfortunate too because the Bible says we should play skillfully for the Lord.
There is nothing inherent about a well-polished worship band that prohibits singing. Pastors and leaders just need to tell their congregations this and lead by example. Furthermore, even if someone can't get it out of their head that it's a 'show', at most U2 concerts for example, people STILL sing.


Volume is complicated. For instance, one school of thought says that if things are too loud, people can’t hear their own voices so they won’t sing. Another school of thought says that if the volume is too soft, people won’t sing because they CAN hear their own voices (and more importantly their neighbor can hear them).


So which is it? I’ve found no definitive data. But I suspect that it depends upon the person. However, if your church gets its theology right, the latter can be mitigated. Keep reading and I’ll explain.


I was born and raised Pentecostal. One thing I can tell you about Pentecostals is that they sing. Not only that, but they shout, dance, hoop, holler…. they are generally far less self-conscious than their counterparts. Matt Redman had a song called Undignified that describes it very well:


“I will dance I will sing to be mad for my king

Nothing lord is hindering the passion in my soul…


And I’ll become even more undignified than this

Some would say it’s foolishness…”


On the other hand, I find that mainline denominations (as an example) tend to not be very expressive with singing. Why the differences? I believe they boil down to culture and theology…. keep reading….


Those Pentecostals and Charismatics have a theology that breeds and attracts a certain culture. Their DNA produces people who are expressive. They are hungry for a faith that is emotional so of course they are going to sing. On the other hand, a lot of churches are more reserved. Many churches hunger for an intellectual pursuit of God. Human nature tends to swing from one extreme at the neglect of the other. So one side values the heart at the expense of the mind, while the other does the opposite… No wonder the truths of Christ are filled with the tension of opposites we call paradoxes.


What is the culture of your church? What attributes of your church’s culture should you accommodate as a worship leader? Which attributes should you challenge in order to lead a body to conform to the image of Christ?


Another cultural factor is shyness and insecurity. But this is also tied to theology so keep reading….


“O clap your hands all ye people, shout unto God with a voice of triumph." - Psalm 47:1


"Thus I will bless Thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name." – Psalm 63:4


“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” – Psalm 33:3


“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;”  - Psalm 95:6


“Let them praise his name with dancing… “ - Psalm 149:3


So the fact that the Bible speaks of the raising of hands, shouting, singing, dancing and kneeling as valid expressions of worship is indisputable. But what is your church’s theology? Does your church view these passages as prescriptions or only descriptions? Are these commands or are they simply examples of what CAN be done but aren’t required? This largely depends upon your theology.


I won’t go any deeper here but let me encourage you to study how Jesus handled Scripture in terms of descriptions vs prescriptions. At the same time, we do know that just because Noah built an ark doesn’t mean we are to do the same so tread carefully. The greater point is that interpreting God’s word requires careful study and a pure heart. The answers to these questions are in the hands or preaching Pastors and Bible teachers more than in the hands of worship leaders.


Closing Thoughts

I personally believe it is usually safer to assume a Scripture is prescriptive unless it is blatantly obvious that it is descriptive. The old joke is that the Scripture teaches that Judas hung Himself and it later says, “Go do likewise”.  The point is to always take Scripture within context.


I get the sense that many churches prioritize making believers feel comfortable instead of challenging them through the transformational cleansing of the Word.


Does God’s word tell us to bring the comfort of praise? Or isn’t that word supposed to be sacrifice? Does the expression of such worship look like the rocks that Jesus said would cry out if we don’t, or does it look more like David who in self-abandon, danced before the Lord? Preachers, teachers and leaders, what can YOU do to get people to sing? Your worship leader is in charge of the prerequisites but you have a part to play as well.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

I Am a Traditionalist

"Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." - Jaroslave Pelikan, The Vindication of Tradition: The 1983 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities

I am a traditionalist. Like the early church of the 1st century and the church that developed throughout history, I traditionally believe that we should love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Because of this love, and God’s love for us, I believe that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. I believe in the historic tradition of the church that confesses that the God incarnate who revealed Himself to us, demonstrated such love with His life to save us as we give Him our lives in faith. THAT is tradition. The rest is just man’s rules.


What do I mean by “the rest?”


Jesus taught things that are timeless truths… His teachings are devoid of anything dictating whether or not we have stained glass windows, acolytes, liturgies, music, organs, guitars, pews, coffee, candles, multimedia and light shows, or even church buildings. I’m not against such things. They are certainly good expressions of our faith. But so is the use of multimedia, worship bands and church coffee bars.  But the expression, whether old or new, is not the Word.


It seems to me that if these methods or techniques are old, people call them tradition and hold on to them. Those same people often eschew them if they are modern. And at the same time, there are those that hold on to the modern, having a mindset that newer is always better, while eschewing the old, with the same level of dogmatism.


What I’m calling for is a ‘naked Christianity’. If Christ didn’t teach it, if the Word doesn’t prescribe it, then maybe I can still believe it but I cannot make that belief my dogma.


Christ taught us that we should build upon a rock so that when the storms of life come, our house will withstand the onslaught.


When a storm hits the natural world, trees with shallow roots are uprooted while those with deeper roots are left standing. Just as a storm ‘shakes’ up a tree to determine whether or not it has what it takes, Christians should test everything we believe and practice against Christ’s teachings. If anything doesn’t pass the test, do we have the courage to abandon our dogmas?


Think for a moment of an image of a beautiful sanctuary. Do you have that picture in your mind? That picture is not found in my religious traditions or dogmas…. My tradition is not to be reduced to something physical that I believe in. No, my tradition is rather a place that I live in…. it is within my soul, the true temple of the living God.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Cross Generational Worship: A Call To Maturity

The worship wars have unfortunately created an ‘us vs them’ mentality within the church as older generations might feel threatened by younger generations worship preferences (and vice versa). Church have been dealing with this problem in several ways including blending the worship styles and having multiple services.

Paul Baloche advocates doing one newer song, one familiar song and one hymn to keep a church cross generational. I have a huge respect for Paul but I want to share a different idea.

First of all, the worship wars do not have to be so divisive. There are of course young people that like and maybe prefer hymns and there are also older folks who like the contemporary music. One thing that is also commonly done these days is take a hymn and modernize it. This seems like a method to try and keep both sides happy. So the issue doesn’t always have to please one side and displease the other.

But even if a worship leader incorporates these methods, inevitably, someone will be unhappy. What should we do in these situations? I believe that we should call some to sacrifice their preferences for the good of the body as a whole. I don’t think it is reasonable to expect to be able to please everyone so sacrifice is inevitable.

IF one side is going to have to sacrifice, which group is more likely to have the maturity for such a challenge, the younger generation or the older generation?

I am now 43 years old. I don’t want to grow old but the only other choice is death. And while I might sing “When we all get to heaven, what a wonderful day that will be”, I’m not interested in going tomorrow. As I get older, I expect my music preferences to have to make way for the next generation. If my grandchildren are being reached because my church is doing music that I don’t like, I’m all for my church doing that music.

I absolutely love the guitar. It is my favorite instrument that I play. But I keep hearing rumblings that electric guitar music is going out the door. If modern pop music is any indication, that might be true. As one might survey artists such as Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Beyonce, and others, one will find very very little electric guitar. I’ve even noticed this in the music of Israel Houghton, and maybe half of what you hear on K-Love.

As I grey, if this trend persists, I will mourn that loss but God is still worthy and worship was never about me. I believe that a mature believer can worship God to styles associated with any generation. Couple this with the fact that Scripture doesn’t give us any prescriptions on music styles, it seems to me that music styles are a tool, they are NOT the substance of our worship. Therefore, this tool should be used to reach the immature and the seeker. The mature in Christ can give God the glory whether it is in the form or How Great Thou Art, How Great Is Our God or even the EDM style of Hillsong’s Young & Free. Once one is called to a maturity in Christ, the calling of the cross is one of sacrifice.

Christ fed the multitudes loaves and fishes but that food was never his goal. It was simply a means to get people to seek the greater spiritual food He had to offer. I’m not a seafood person but I’m willing to put up with the fish fries if we can reach more people as a result. What about you?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Truth Is Expensive. Are We Willing To Pay?

Jesus said that the truth will set you free. I believe that freedom is at the heart of salvation. This is why I value truth.

But truth costs. The greatest lesson I've ever learned about truth was as a little boy when my parents taught me to look both ways before I cross the street. Unfortunately, many of the questions that life asks us require us to go through a much deeper process in order to adequately "look both ways".

Three Tests for Truth

Ravi Zacharias says that in a court of law, there are basically three tests for truth. Truth must be logically consistent, empirically adequate and existentially relevant. Without going too much deeper here, this means that truth must be coherent, adequately supported by observation and relevant to real life.

By the way, I'm growing more convinced that pastors and lawyers have a lot in common (no disrespect to Pastors for drawing the connection). They are both required to test for truth. The lawyer navigates this within the framework of the law while the Pastor, within the framework of the Word of God.

The process for discerning truth using just these three tests alone (and some say there are more) is arduous enough, however there is another more important foundation required for the truth expedition. That predicate is commonly called objectivity.

Following Truth No Matter Where It Leads

The idea of objectivity means that the discerning person runs these tests without prejudice (literally meaning to 'pre-judge' before evaluation). If the discerning person has a pre-existent bias, they must sufficiently be willing to set aside that bias and follow the truth no matter where it leads.

Blessed are the pure in heart. They will see God. - Matthew 5:8

God is truth. You cannot see Him without having a pure heart. Having this sort or objectivity requires that we get ourselves out of the way. And by the way, getting ourselves out of the way is at the heart of worship.

The greatest threats to this pure heart are fear, insecurity and selfishness. These defects paralyze the discerning person, tainting the evidence they might otherwise uncover. These deficiencies keep the discerning person from following the truth no matter where it may lead (toxic people), instead causing them to want to steer the evidence mined out through the testing process towards a security blanket to which they seek.

Sometimes people do this because they want to please people to keep their position. Sometimes, because of our insecurities we hide the truths that could set our loved ones free so that we protect our relationship. Politicians and political advisers are great examples of this. They are so afraid of losing votes that they will often manage perceptions (poll numbers) at the expense of truth. This is why we generally think of them as slick-tongued liars.

Glass Houses

Before we can wield the truth, we have to make sure we don't live in glass houses. Jesus never said don't judge. If you read Matthew 7, he basically teaches us not to judge hypocritically. He doesn't say don't judge because you have a plank in your eye. Instead He tells us to take the plank out of our own eye so that we can then have the vision (discernment) to help our neighbor with the speck in theirs.

By the way, when most people say "don't judge", that very statement is a judgement. They are judging judgemental people to be wrong. Secondly, they really mean don't condemn. Condemnation is when we point out people's flaws because we do not love them. We want them to fail. Love, on the other hand, dispenses truth to anyone it can because it wants to set the 'beloved' free.

Truth Seeking Is Not For The Faint Of Heart

The process I have outlined above is not for the faint of heart. Now granted if I'm trying to test whether or not 2 + 3 = 5, this is a piece of cake. But when trying to test for questions of faith, philosophy and worldview, this process is exhausting. The arduous nature of truth hunting is even at risk of being used against the truth seeker if it is being sought within the context of an argument. Typically, one side will simply accuse the truth seeker of being argumentative or being defensive. This is a risk when the accuser doesn't understand the process of seeking truth, causing them to ascribe truth's difficult nature to yours.

Some Will Remain Slaves

There is a quote from a movie that comes to my mind:
You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!

Sometimes you will find that because a person's heart is soiled with insecurity and fear, they are not ready for truth. Jesus said you can judge a tree by its fruit. When I find such a tree, I have learned to simply show empathy and love to that person and then pray that God will bring them to the point where I, or someone else, could later go further down the discernment process. Unfortunately, God often seems to do this by 'breaking people'. I have come to the conclusion that while it is my responsibility as a believer to shine the light of truth in love, it is NOT my responsibility to break people.

Truth In Love

We are called not to simply speak the truth because part of the cost of truth, as discussed above, is that truth can be difficult to accept. Love 'greases' the wheels of truth making it easier to accept. As believers we have an obligation to only speak it in love, again never to condemn or put someone down. Our goal should always be to set people free. Isn't that what the saving grace of Christ is truly about?

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. - Ephesians 4:15

No Silver Bullets

Will you ALWAYS have the answers? Is this a silver bullet? No. In fact, many times I've found that this process betters helps me to embrace my humanity and the mystery of life and God. I've often found this process to better help me to embrace questions, not necessarily answers. This process has taught me that the more I know, the more I realize what I don't know. And even as an adherent in the discerning process you will sometimes find yourself to be on the wrong side of truth. And what is scarier to me is that we can still be wrong but not know it. Because of this, the discerning process is lifelong. It should never end for the truth seeker. The process is ultimately humbling. Humility is a prerequisite for finding the truth that sets us free.

So What Does This Have To Do With Worship Leading?

Well, this actually connects better with Christian ministry in general, whether you are the senior pastor, youth pastor or worship leader. The discernment process will give freedom not only to your worship leader ministry but to your life. It will also equip you to set others free. Learning how to test for truth will help illuminate the paths for the decisions that come your way in your ministry.

It is inevitable that you will receive complaints. You will likely even be accused of things. I am describing the process for freedom. This process is the escape path. Sometimes that search for escape will be to admit that you are in the wrong. Even then you have found freedom because the truth seeker never wastes a mistake but learns and grows from them instead.

But when you are on the right side of truth, you will have the ability to set others free. Unfortunately, you will find that many times (my experience is most), the other side will not listen. While you cannot free them, you can at least learn to discern between toxic people (trees with bad fruit) and healthy people (trees with good fruit). I've had to learn to walk away from the former, praying for them, but knowing that this is also what God does. He never forces our hand.

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it - C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
I can't tell you how many times I've come to an impasse with someone, tested the waters by starting down the road of the truth testing process, found that the person was unwilling and had to walk away. But fortunately, because of past mistakes in my life, this has taught me which battles to fight and which ones to surrender. I've learned that for toxic people, their language is only visceral so the best thing I can do for them is to agree to disagree and to make sure they know that I love them. And if I truly love them, I pray for their freedom.

Christopher Columbus would have never been able to go on his expedition to discover the 'new world' had he not a King who was willing to fund it.

As worship leaders, we need Pastors who are willing to pay the cost that the truth expedition demands. I've had to serve many Pastors who weren't willing to pay that cost. Instead of walking down these roads together, they walked away accusing my attempts to find truth to be offensive. Truth can often offend. It can offend so strongly that even the search for it can offend.

Salvation Requires a Crucifixion

If you are truth seeker, be warned, you are at risk for being crucified. Your truth expedition will exhaust many others around you. I've had people call me argumentative when I was really only seeking clarity, not a personal win. I've learned that although I'm called as a Christ follower to love those who oppose me, that even the presence of love is not enough to prevent the most toxic accusers.

When Argument weak pound pulpit

If you tell a toxic person something they don't want to hear and they can't refute it, they will be tempted to employ ad hominem attacks. They will call you names, accuse you of being too defensive (which would imply that they are being offensive), malign your intentions, your heart, your reputation...

The Price for Freedom Is Worth It

Again, you won't have a monopoly on truth if you practice these things. But when we purify our hearts, we are cultivating its soil to receive the seed of truth. When that seed is fully grown, freedom is its fruit.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. - John 12:24-25 (NIV)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Worship IS a performance. Who is the audience?

What if I were to tell you that worship IS a performance? What if the real question is WHO is the audience?

 In Genesis 4, we read about Cain and Abel’s offering of worship to God. Cain gave God the left-overs, giving God nothing more than his mediocrity. Abel on the other hand, gave God his best in the first fruits of his labor. This made Cain jealous.

 When people say that worship music is not about performance, they are probably trying to guard against pride. I couldn’t agree more. One of the greatest dangers I see with culturally-relevant churches is that they risk losing humility. Humility is having the boldness to stare your weaknesses in the eye without flinching. You show me a church that is culturally relevant without humility and I’ll show you a bunch of hipsters, posing in their skinny jeans, drinking their lattes, sporting piercings and tattoos to lure you into a conformity that they have mistaken for coolness.

But does humility require the church’s virtuosos to hide their light under a lamp? Can a church be humble without lowering the bar to a mediocrity of skill and creativity? What if your church’s worship team has a singer with the lungs of Steve Perry or a guitarist with the skills of Lincoln Brewster? Should that church tell them to leave the high note descants and shred solos at home? Should we tell our most skilled worship team members that God doesn’t want their greatest skills used within the church? Should they be forced to only use such skill in secular contexts because we can’t possibly imagine them being used in humility? Why do we find that the Old Testament temple worship model incorporated a system of teachers and apprentices if skill is to be so restrained? And what about Psalm 33:3?

Now please understand, if you only have the skill of the average hobbyist, this is not an indictment. Attitude determines altitude. The real issue is not your skill but your heart. Are you willing to give God all that you have, whether that is a lot or a little? Are you motivated to do it better tomorrow than today because you are not doing it for yourself but doing it for the King of glory? If you can answer yes, then that is the attitude of a humble, perpetual learner. That passion is what God wants and it is what I celebrate as a worship leader when I see it in any worship team member, from the beginner to the most experienced and advanced.

In the movie “Chariots of Fire”, Eric Liddell is both an Olympic runner and a missionary. He is admonished by his family for putting so much time into his training at the expense of his missionary work. He tells his family that yes God has called him to be a missionary but God has also made him fast and when he runs he feels God’s pleasure.

 Is it not possible for a Celine Dion, Mike Portnoy or Phil Keaggy to be on our praise teams, itching not to impress people but just to give God the fruits of all of their practice time and dedication as an act of worship? Within the context of a tasteful fit for a song’s style, while preserving congregational singability, couldn’t moderate bursts of such skill be a witness to the people within our congregations? What could such displays, within the context of humility say about God and our worship to Him?

 If we can’t imagine such a thing happening without pride, could it be possible that WE have the problem instead of the virtuoso? Did God admonish Abel for his gift because it risked being mistaken by Cain as ‘showing off’?

Light is best appreciated when contrasted with darkness. Humility is best demonstrated when contrasted with skill. Whose humility is the louder witness, the humility of a musician with the skills of a beginner or that of the virtuoso? Isn’t the power of Christ’s humility found in that He is the rightful King who gave His life? Or would this humility have been better displayed if He were just an ordinary man who died?

“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist”. - Cardinal Suhard

What if people within our congregations were presented with a mystery? What if that mystery were of a church that is known for presenting worship with excellence and skill not to solicit praise from men but to give praise to someone otherwise invisible, but made real by their humility?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Toga Party For Jesus (and other thoughts on traditionalism)

Imagine that a group of believers said to themselves, "we want to be Christ-like and Christ wore a toga (really a robe) and sandals, so let's start doing the same". Aside from this being really weird, these well-meaning folks could be said to have totally missed the point regarding the essence of Christ.

Traditionalists, please forgive me or enlighten me.... maybe I haven't been listening well but I'm not so sure you guys have been communicating well either... but traditionalism seems like throwing a Toga party for Jesus.

Yes Christ wore a robe and sandals.... and while you're at it, he had a beard.... but to dress like Christ totally misses the point of His teachings. In the same way, to say that Christian worship has to be expressed with 300 year old music, pipe organs, stained glass windows, a 'table of the Lord', and all the other 'smells & bells', seems to miss the point just the same in my mind.

For both traditionalists and the ancient/future folks, I hear them talking about wanting to connect with the rich history we have inherited as believers. I can appreciate and even value that within the context that G.K. Chesterton explained tradition as the 'democracy of the dead'. The Holy Spirit has spoken to not just our generation, but to generations of believers past.... the historic church.... but I would contend that what He said had nothing directly to do with 'smells & bells'. If we REALLY want to connect with what the Holy Spirit has done historically through the church, I would contend we should affirm the BELIEFS and VALUES that the Holy Spirit has passed down to us through Christ and the Apostles. Those beliefs and values are in the form of loving our neighbors as ourselves, loving God with all our hearts and souls, and expressing worship as the community known as the church chiefly in the form of loving one another but also in the forms of partaking of communion, baptism, and singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another.

So if I truly value tradition, tradition isn't found in stained glass windows, choirs, hymns, bells, incense and the like. Christian tradition is found in loving one another, turning the cheek, walking in the Spirit....

The rest can be helpful but shouldn't be our dogma. So if you're a traditionalist and you prefer a toga, that's fine as long as you hold on to your toga loosely. If it helps you express worship, functioning as a symbol, that's great but we err to ever mistake the symbols/styles for the substance, mistaking the medium for the message or mistaking the sign for the truth to which it points.

The greatest tradition of a Christ follower should be to love God and love one another. THAT is how we connect to generations of believers past.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Worship, Purpose by Another Name

In the Old Testament, a believer who wanted to worship God had to go to a place of worship. That place had to have an altar, and a sacrifice. Genesis 22 is a great example of this model as Abraham is trudging up the mountain with his son who unbeknownst to him, is planned as being the sacrifice.

As history progressed, the children of Israel’s place of worship changed from the mount tops to the tabernacle and later to a temple. After the 2nd temple was destroyed, the believer worshipped in a synagogue.

But when Christ died on the cross, something profound happened. The veil of the temple, which separated the holy of holies, was torn. The barrier between sacred and secular was removed. Why?

Christ said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” – John 2:19. Paul, wrote, “Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?” – I Cor 3:16.

The temple, the place of worship, is no longer a building or structure, or any other external place. The place of worship is now the believer.

But if worship is doing religious stuff how can this be? How can the temple be subject to the menial tasks of mowing the lawn, commuting to work, or even important, but secular duties such as working 9 to 5?

The monk’s idea of worship was to abandon all of this stuff. Seen as a distraction, the monk left such things behind, sold all of their possessions, and lived in a monastery, where for the rest of their lives, they could do religious stuff like pray, meditate, etc….

However, if this is God’s plan for the worshipping believer, than why did He make life to be such a persistent distraction from these activities? Could there be a better answer?

Could it be that God doesn’t want us to worship Him by abandoning life itself? I believe that He wants us to worship Him IN life. He wants us to worship him while mowing that lawn, taking the kids to school, eating dinner, etc. How can we do this you ask? It is not by turning every event into a prayer, communion, baptism, Bible study or other religious activity. The answer lies in the realization that true, Biblical worship is meaning.

There is a question that haunts every human soul. That question is, “What is the meaning of my life?” This is the God-shaped hole that Augustine wrote about. This is the longing that C.S. Lewis and even nonbelievers like Anias Nin recognized. Only God can fulfill it.

Christian worship is purpose by another name. What makes every moment of my life an act of worship is not whether or not I am attaching it to a “religious” sacrament, but rather the intent of that moment. It is our intentions, our very heart’s purpose, that can make every act of life an act of worship. Just to use the mowing the lawn example, let me demonstrate.

Why mow the lawn when the next week the grass will be long again? Why do something that has such a short-term benefit? The believer worships the Creator while mowing, having a sense of purpose and fellowship with Him in everything he/she does, even when his/her mind is on something trivial. I might be thinking about how I need to scatter some grass seed in some bare spots, but because my life’s purpose is for God’s purposes, even these thoughts are worshipful. I ultimately want even green grass for His glory. And He wants me to enjoy even my lawn because He is a loving father, who wants me to enjoy all of His creation. Worship is our delight of the father. And what’s more is that He delights in us as well!

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” – Psalm 37:4

I also will mow the lawn with the idea that if I don’t, it’s a horrible witness on my neighbors who should know about my faith and not appreciate an unkempt lawn bringing down their property values. Such a bad impression could be a stumbling block in my leading them to Christ.

I can keep going, but the point is echoed in Martin Luther’s statement that even a dairy farmer can worship God as he milks a cow. The point is that worship is 24 hrs/day, 7 days a week to the believer. Our lives are a song to Him.

So what we typically call the “worship” portion of our church services, is not aptly named. Although, I also use this terminology because if you can’t beat em’, join em, technically, a worship leader really just continues a 24/7 worship (think “walking in the Spirit”), but brings it into a corporate/congregational setting.

That special time that we reserve in our church services can be called congregational worship. It is special in that it is the one time during the week where we might worship God not as individuals, but as a church community, enjoying both the fellowship of God and man.

And why do we use music when we could use liturgy for this coming together? Liturgy is certainly valid and Biblical, however the advantages of music for corporate worship are these:

1.      The rhythm of music can be used to synchronize the community. The beat actually unifies everyone so that we’re all singing the same thing at the same time. Just let your heart or the celestial bodies get out of rhythm, and you’ll quickly see the benefits of the synchronizing effect of rhythm.

2.      The beauty (aesthetics) of worship augments the message of the music.

3.      Music converges propositions with the visceral. It is the coalescence of the heart and the mind, the intellect with the emotions. Christianity is truly holistic.

So, to be literal, I would more accurately call myself either a music director, or the corporate worship leader of a church. I prefer the latter, because I believe that God has called me to model and teach worship, NOT simply music.

Shredding Churchiness

In the previous posting “Freedom of Style”, we talked about the “Three E’s” where we explored the Biblical imperative for the church to structure its services so that God is exalted, the believer is edified, or built up, and the seeker is evangelized. I concluded this article by asking what worship music might look like if it conforms to this mandate.

It’s relatively easy to establish music that exalts the Lord. Such music should be Biblically sound, should give Him glory, highlighting who He is and what He has done.  I see this as being primarily a focus on lyrical content, although some styles of music can distract one from God.

Choosing a worship style that edifies the believer is not necessarily any more difficult, except where such a strategy conflicts with the goal of the third E of evangelization. I would suggest that the third E of evangelism is potentially the most controversial, causing a lot of headaches for worship leaders.
As stated in “Freedom of Style”, I believe that God has given us the freedom to use any style as worship music. However, this freedom of style does not mean that we are free from practical considerations.

Drawing from a pool of styles that should all exalt the Lord and edify the believer, we now ask which styles are best suited to allowing us to evangelize the seeker? Which styles are seeker-sensitive? Which styles give the seeker the least amount of distractions from the Gospel? Which present the least amount of speed bumps, and pave the smoothest path to a relationship with the living God?
To think of it in another way, if a seeker were to walk in on a Sunday morning in the middle of a worship service, how can we better ensure that if they ARE offended, that they will most likely be offended by the truth of the Gospel, instead of by an irrelevant or irreverent music style?

Given the fact that popular music is mass marketed, it is easy to determine which musical styles both seekers and believers should be able to relate to. One doesn’t even have to consult marketing surveys (although they can be helpful). Marketing trends are easily seen in pop culture. Just do a scan on your FM radio dial. What styles of music dominate? And out of those styles, which can be used to serve the three E’s?

You will most likely not hear classical pipe organ music with vocals during that FM scan. You will unfortunately find classical orchestra music relegated to non-profit radio stations because of their lack of popularity. It is unlikely that you will find music that sounds like Christian Southern Gospel on secular stations. You will find that the popular musical landscape is dominated by guitars, drums and bass, with the guitar usually being central.  And of course vocal music is vastly more popular than instrumental.

The FM radio scan helps us identify what I call “churchy” music. I define churchy as the things that the church uses to unnecessarily distinguish itself from the world. This can even go so far as to be legalism when taken to an extreme.

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men." - Mark 7:8
While there’s nothing wrong with more traditional styles of worship music, such music is foreign to most seeker’s minds, especially the unchurched seeker.  What instruments dominate the cultural landscape? What kind of vocal styles are most popular? What sounds are considered modern and what sounds are dated?

The driving force behind these questions is the church’s freedom, given by God to adopt the culture’s styles so long as the truth of God’s word is never compromised. After all, if one wants to catch fish, you have to use the right bait.

Paul did this:
19Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. I Corinthians 9:19-23

Even with this in mind, I do believe that it is good for the church to sing hymns and do traditional music in order to remember where we have come from and to keep a historical perspective. I also see traditional music as bridging generation gaps that can otherwise occur.  In my opinion, all of these considerations serve the E of edification, without significantly hindering evangelization. And in many cases, these elements will even help to serve evangelization.

And by the criteria of the FM radio scan litmus test, one will also never hear choirs or even praise teams singing vocal lines. The use of choirs and praise teams may be limited to church culture, however because I defined churchy as that which the church unnecessarily distinguishes itself from the world, I wouldn’t call this a churchy characteristic.  The very reason for the church is to enjoy the presence of God (worship) in the fellowship of believers (community).

Although the sound of worship team vocalists, or choirs might not be a sound heard on FM radio, the practice of using praise teams and choirs reinforces the Biblical imperative that the church should be a functioning, fellowshipping community. Furthermore, it is very unlikely that a seeker is going to be deterred by this distinction.

Now how do we handle the believer who feels left behind by the whole approach outlined thus far? Galatians 5 indicates that the fruit of the spirit is evident by the fact that we believers should not be driven by selfish desires. We are challenged to be a living sacrifice for God, always esteeming others higher than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

As a worship leader, I don’t want ANY believer to have to suffer through the worship styles that I might be tasked to lead. However, good ministry has been said to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. If we believers can’t worship God through the “suffering” of worship styles that we might not like (and I include myself under all the standards that I am laying down in this series of articles), how can we possibly worship God as Job did in the midst of much, much greater suffering?

 ”Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” – Luke 6:26

If following Christ inevitably leads to displeasing some people, which is preferable? Would it be better to please some immature believers in our congregations and hinder advancing God’s kingdom? Or is it best to allow these immature believers to either suffer the growth pains necessary to blossom into maturity, even at the risk of them leaving our fellowships, thus saving our fellowships from being “infected” with their influence so that the kingdom of God can advance?

Freedom Of Style

Scripture is silent on worship music styles. It is because of this silence, that I can confidently say that God has given us freedom in this area. If He wanted to only sanction a particular style for worship music, He would have said so. He would not have forgotten to mention this in His revelation to us.
So how do we handle this freedom? While there are no Biblical prohibitions in regards to musical styles, there are practical considerations.

If one were to perform “Mary Had A Little Lamb” in a heavy metal style, there would be a sense of conflict between the message of the music and the style that would cause most people to laugh and not take the music seriously. If one were to play a dirge at a funeral in an upbeat, poppy style, or play wedding reception music in a style more suited for a requiem, there would be a cognitive dissonance, a disconnection between the style and the message of the music. This would be akin to a preacher dressing in a clown suit while delivering his sermon on Sunday morning.

These considerations limit the practical boundaries for worship music. There is a reason why heavy metal music tends to have aggressive and dark lyrics. Those lyrics fit the emotions that the style inspires and in its listeners. There is a reason why pop music tends to have upbeat lyrics, country music tends to tell colloquial stories, blues tends to be dominated by themes of struggle and even depression, etc…

Another boundary for worship music is that the music must be congregationally singable. Some songs are great, but difficult to sing. They might work well as a special, but not as a congregational worship song. Some musicians complain about an over-simplistic approach taken with congregational worship music, but this is a necessity for most congregational music, especially congregations who no longer have the liberty of music books with scores where the melodies can be read.

So all of these considerations can help us to identify musical styles that can best be suited for worship. We’re looking for simpler forms of music that are styled in ways to inspire our imaginations to see God for who He really is, celebrate His goodness, the salvation that He has given us, and the fellowship of other believers.

This excludes complex music styles like some forms of jazz, fusion, progressive rock and classical. This excludes dark styles like heavy metal (unless we want to start singing songs about God’s judgment and end times :-). This excludes the “All My Rowdy Friends Have Settled Down”, country western styles that evoke images of drowning in our sorrows, but not bathing in the goodness of God. None of this is a judgment against these styles as sources for entertainment.  But they fall short of presenting the truths that worship music should carry.

Styles of worship music that might fit the above criteria include, hymns, done in a classical, southern or urban Gospel style. Contemporary worship music, which is really Christian music done in a pop/rock or even modern country style, also fits the bill. But as we will see, the church’s worship music should be “purpose driven”. That purpose is summed up in 'the Three E's':

The Three E’s
I believe that every ministry in the church should be driven by three E’s; Exalt the Lord, Edify the believer, and Evangelize the lost.

Exalt the Lord is as obvious as breathing. I’ve never met a person who was anti-breathing. As a result, you won’t hear a lot of talk advocating breathing. You won’t find a Surgeon General’s warning stating, “Not breathing has been shown in lab studies to cause death in 10 out of 10 cases.” Because Exalt the Lord is also such an evidentiary truth, scripture doesn’t belabor this point, and neither do I, but I clearly believe and affirm it.

The second two E’s are seen in many places in Scripture. I will shine light on their presence in I Corinthians 14. While Paul is building an argument for the proper function of tongues within the church service, the presuppositions of his points can be used to build a case for a proper practice of anything within the church that we might question, including the use of worship music.
In verses 1-19, Paul builds his argument from the presupposition that everything that occurs within the church should build up (edify) the believer.

Verse 12 highlights this presupposition:
“So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”

Therefore, a priority for structuring a church service is to be “believer-sensitive”.

In verses 20-25, Paul builds his argument based upon the presupposition that the church should always ask, “What if an unbeliever were to be among us”? Here’s an excerpt:

23So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 24But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, 25and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"

So what does worship music look like that ministers to the believer, is seeker-sensitive and pleases God?

I explore this in more detail in my next post: “Shedding Churchiness

What To Look For In A Worship Leader

The quandary that churches without a worship leader often find themselves in is that they don’t always know what to look for. They might know what leadership qualities to look for given that the search committee will likely consist of leaders, but typically this group of leaders doesn’t have a musician or singer who is knowledgeable about music on their team. As a result, they won’t know what to look for in those areas.

But just to make sure we’re on the same page, the leadership qualities that you want to look for are:
  1. Someone who clearly loves God and people
  2. Someone who is gifted and called to be a leader and therefore has leadership, administrative and organizational skills.
  3. Someone who has a sense of humor can really help, especially to lighten things when difficult decisions and situations arise.
  4. A great communicator.
  5. Has a strong theological foundation for worship
  6. A good teacher
Before I discuss the musical styles, let me say something about this last point, because it is often missed. Do you want the quality of your church’s music department to improve? A worship leader who cannot teach may be able to tell the worship team that they are at level A and need to go to level B, but does not have the ability to equip the team as to how to get there. This would have been akin to Moses coming in to tell the Children of Israel that they needed to go to the promised land, but to not know the first thing about which direction to even point them in.

The inability of a worship leader to teach can bring frustration as a result. The best such a worship leader may be able to do is to work within the limits of the current team and not try and grow them musically. Unless your worship team is a group of top-notch singers and musicians, this is not an option. And if you’re a non-musician leader, it is difficult to even make his judgment. It’s true that anyone can know what they like, but a well-trained, knowledgeable worship leader can hear a worship team and immediately hear their strengths and weaknesses, being able to formulate a plan to raise the bar of musical excellence in the spirit of giving God our best.

Now, what are the musical gifts to look for in a worship leader?
  1. Can sing and/or play either guitar or piano
  2. Music reading
  3. Can play by ear
  4. Knows music theory
  5. Can sing/play in the style(s) that best suit your church’s vision
  6. Can use a computer to communicate and create/distribute charts.

Many of the above points may be optional for your church. You be the judge as I expound on each.

1.      Can sing and/or play either guitar or piano/keys/organ

Worship leaders that can only do one or the other are very dependent upon lay people to lead worship. This can work under rare circumstances, but I wouldn’t recommend it. I’ve found that most churches that have a worship leader without one of these critical skills, usually regret their choice later on as problems arise.

The most obvious problem is what the worship leader might do when the key layperson doesn’t show up. Furthermore, such a layperson can come to feel that they are being taken advantage of if the worship leader is getting paid. This can cause unnecessary divisions and strife.

I have seen worship leaders who are successful that play other instruments besides guitar and piano. They still suffer from the layperson dependence, but if they are knowledgeable about music, and don’t lean on one particular musician, but instead rely on the band as a whole showing up, the potential for acrimony is greatly reduced. But rightly or wrongly, there seems to be a cultural expectation that a worship leader, especially a more contemporary one, should be able to play guitar or piano.

If I had to choose between a worship candidate that could only do one or the other, I’d opt for the worship leader that plays an instrument but can’t sing. This type of worship leader is more likely to understand the inner workings of music at a level where they can best equip the team. It’s also usually easier to find plenty of lay people who sing at your average church so as to mitigate the absentee layperson problem.

But a worship leader who can only do one or the other, is more likely to be strong at developing the side they are good at on the worship team, but neglect the other. The vocalist worship leader is often going to be great at working with the singers and choir, but will miss critical details to develop the band. The instrumentalist is likely to be great at developing the band but poor at developing the vocalists. This can cause factions on the worship team as one subgroup will feel neglected and the other favored.

If your worship leader can sing, it is important that they have the ability to sing harmonies. This is even critical if they can’t play an instrument because all they will have left for communicating to the worship team is their voice. They will need a very good ear unless they can at least plunk out a few chords or notes on an instrument as a reference point. Fortunately, many vocalist only worship leaders seem to be able to do this.

2.      Music reading

Music reading is probably most important if your church is traditional or has some sort of blend, however it is definitely useful to all styles. This skill is particularly helpful when the worship leader needs to learn a new song, can’t play by ear or doesn’t have a recording, and only has a score or lead sheet available to them.

Music reading is probably more important for keyboard players than guitarists so much so that usually if your worship leader candidate can play a keyboard, they have most likely already learned to read music at some level.

Because of the nature of the guitar, most guitarists never need to learn how to read music. Since most contemporary worship music is in a chord chart form, this is perfectly fine for the contemporary worship leader. But where I’ve seen this become an issue is when this worship leader needs to do a hymn that they have never heard before. If this worship leader can read music, they can figure out the melody from a hymn book and go from there. Otherwise, they are left with finding a recording and creating or finding a supplemental chord chart.

3.      Can play by ear

Playing by ear is another skill that is not absolutely necessary but helpful in ways that the non-musician might not realize. A worship leader who can play by ear will not have to bury their head in a music stand to watch the music go by. They have the potential to look at the congregation as they lead which makes for a more effective worship experience.

I say that they have the potential for this, because the worship leader who plays by ear still has to know the lyrics of the song that they might be singing. If your church projects lyrics on the back of the wall, or a screen within the field of vision of the worship leader, no distracting music stand will be necessary for them in most cases.

Secondly, playing by ear helps a worship leader to improvise and be spontaneous. This may or not be a priority for your church depending upon your church’s vision of worship.

Finally, a worship leader who can play by ear can draft their own charts for the band simply by hearing the song. This is such an advantage when charts are otherwise not available.

4.      Knows music theory

This is not a necessity, but a worship leader that knows music theory is better equipped to communicate to the worship team. Music theory is a language shared by musicians, which describes music. Not all musicians know the language, but for those that do, the communication process is much more efficient, essentially allowing for practices to go smoother.

It is much easier for a worship leader to be able to tell the team that they need to suspend the V chord in the song when it appears at the end of the verse, than to have to tell the keyboard and guitarists to play a D suspended, tell the rest of the instruments to make sure that if they are playing harmonies that they don’t play the F#, and show the harmony vocalists what this note sounds like.

Granted, in almost all cases you’ll have people on the team that don’t know music theory, however a good worship leader long-term can equip the team with the necessary language music theory provides to make communication more efficient and therefore make practices run smoother. I believe it’s ultimately better to raise the bar as long as you equip everyone to reach it, rather than to always stoop to the lowest common denominator.

5.      Can sing/play in the style(s) that best suit your church’s vision

A lot of lay leaders, being non-musical type of people, might miss this. I’ve seen this symptom emerge in many churches that I have visited. You will have a worship leader whose vocal style is ideal for southern gospel or classical, leading contemporary worship. This often happens because that worship leader was at the church when it was more traditional. At some point, the church made the decision to contemporize the  worship. The non-musician laypeople may have the ear to hear that the something doesn’t sound right, but they might know what it is to even realize that it’s the worship leader’s style not fitting the new contemporary vision.

Ideally, you want a worship leader who is versatile in many styles but most everyone has limits. I’m a pretty versatile worship leader, but even so, I’m not cut out to sing southern Gospel or classical. I can play these styles and lean on other vocalists, but if those styles are the heart of your church, I’m not the best candidate for such a church.

6.      Can use a computer to communicate and create/distribute charts.

Some might judge this as an optional trait, but computer skills are critical to most efficiently organizing and leading a worship team. In one e-mail, I can send out a hyperlink to a web site to all of my worship team members. On that web site I have uploaded the lyrics, multimedia slides, MP3s for downloads and listening and chord charts. Without such skills, I am left with making individual phone calls and with trying to hand deliver music to each individual.


I want to briefly mention some things that are often missed when preparing a worship team for excellence. I have found that the difference between “good enough” and excellence is usually not found in identifying one showstopper defect. It is instead found in a worship team that is able to focus on a bunch of small details, each one of them when viewed in isolation can seem so small as to be inconsequential, but when viewed as a whole, make a huge difference. I often see many established worship leaders missing these details. As I have heard their teams, the things on this list usually are the culprits:

  • Vocalists (lead excluded) who sing all the time
  • Musicians who play all the time
  • Vocalists who constantly harmonize
  • Vocalists with too wide of a vibrato
  • Vocalists with too much vibrato
  • Vocalists/musicians out of tune
  • Lack of dynamics
  • Poor mix
  • Musicians who play over top of each other instead of leaving room for others
  • Guitarists and keyboardists who use sounds/tones/patches that don’t suit the music or its style
  • Poor vocal enunciation causing words to be difficult to understand or giving the music the wrong style
  • Musicians playing the wrong style for the music
  • The wrong instruments used for the style of music being presented