So You Want To Be A Worship Leader?

“This is a trustworthy saying: ‘If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.'”  

So you want to be a worship leader. It may not be what you imagine.

Being a worship leader can be pretty awesome. Those of us who have this responsibility recognize how blessed we are that the Lord would allow us to serve Him and His people in this way. That we get to serve Him doing something we enjoy so much is truly remarkable.

Being a worship leader can also be really hard. Preparation is time-consuming. We miss out on time with family. The tools of the trade can be expensive. It’s impossible to please everyone, even though we wish we could. As worship leaders we’re on the spiritual battle front-lines and Satan doesn’t want us to succeed. There is so much more to the job, as critical as it is, than the 30 or so minutes spent on that platform each week. So. Much. More.

Being a worship leader is a calling. It may or may not be your occupation too. If it is that’s great. But the source of your paycheck is irrelevant and has no bearing on whether or not you are called and gifted by the Lord to pastor His people as a worship leader.  Yes, the worship leader role is a pastoral one! And according to the verse noted above from 1 Timothy, desiring to serve and lead His church is a good thing! Not every Christian musician or vocalist is necessarily called to lead worship though. There are a variety of worthwhile ways that a person can use their musical and creative gifts to serve the Lord and other people that don’t involve leading in an organized church setting. And I’m so grateful for that! What a bummer it would be if we didn’t have Christian creatives using their gifts to glorify and honor the Lord across the spectrum of artistic fields!

Music is one of my very favorite aspects to God’s creation! It’s amazing! We see throughout Scripture God’s people utilizing music in praise and worship. But worship isn’t about music. Instead it’s a tool that we use. It is important that we play and sing with skill (Psalm 33:3), but it isn’t for the sake of impressing other people. It’s about honoring the Lord with our best. Because He is worthy of nothing less. Most people don’t realize that for the average congregational worship service, numerous hours are spent in preparation each week. And that’s how it should be! We want to lead well!  And that takes time, skill, practice, commitment, planning and constantly seeking the Lord in prayer.

Everything worship leaders do behind the scenes impacts the congregational gatherings of corporate worship, which is a vital element of church body life. Let’s unpack that a bit.

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We’ve touched on a few of these already.  Effective worship leaders will be mature believers and will possess skills in… pastoring, creativity, vocals and/or playing an instrument, music theory, music technology, theology, teaching, communication, administration, organization, stewardship and mentoring. A good worship leader will be willing and able to train and equip others to lead too. They are detail oriented, frequently called upon to troubleshoot a myriad of issues, and ideally will have at least a basic understanding of music production and live sound engineering. They must be adept at planning and preparation, and just as adept and flexible in responding to those last-minute, unforeseen issues or changes that always seem to come up. They should approach everything they do with humility and a shepherd’s heart, and with the understanding that no matter how much they know, there is always room for continued learning and growth.

So. You want to be a worship leader? Pray about it! Spend time in the Word and in private worship of the Lord. And then pray some more! Find an experienced worship pastor and talk to her or him about it! Ask the Lord to confirm that it’s what He’s calling you to do. And ask Him to place you where He wants! Scripture tells us that His plans for us are far more than we can imagine! So even if leading worship isn’t His plan for you, then whatever else He does have for you will be amazing! Evaluate your heart and motives! Also, take an honest assessment of your skill set then prioritize and make a plan for improvement. Consider the possibility of going to school or seminary to study and equip yourself. If you’re already a worship leader then the same thing applies! Prayer, Bible study, heart-checks, skill evaluation and training should be on-going in the life of the worship leader. You have a unique purpose in His kingdom! Pursue Him and be in the habit of cultivating the gifts and skills He’s given you for the benefit of His church and for His glory.

Ultimately none of us are worthy to serve the Lord. But by His design, grace and relentless love for us, it’s what we get to do.

Let’s do it well.

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Michelle Haywood Smith is a Jesus follower, image bearer, ezer, worship leader, vocalist, acoustic guitar player, aspiring poet and songwriter, blogger, reader, perpetual learner, chocolate acquisition specialist;)….and also a daughter, sister, wife, mother & friend. 

Set Prep : The Lyrics

Hi you guys! I’m suuuper stoked this week as we complete final preparations to lead worship at a women’s conference where I was invited to join my worship pastor and some friends of ours in leading worship for some precious sweet sisters. These godly guys are super talented and I’m so excited to be joining them!

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If you’re a worship leader then you know there is a ton of work that goes into preparing to lead. I’m not talking about all of the considerations that go into song selection. That’s critical and there’s lots to unpack there so I’ll leave it for another conversation. But after the songs are chosen there’s a lot of prep and planning that should take place so that, when the time comes, we can lead effectively and with excellence. For this weekend, as I won’t be on my guitar for this one, I’ve had more time than normal to really focus on the lyrics and vocals, and am reminded once again how important that part of the process is to effective leadership. I also know that it can tend take a back seat to other pieces of the process!  At least I can be guilty of that.  There can be so much to do in regards to: logistics, communicating with and preparing resources for the band and tech teams, rehearsing/learning melody lines, determining tempos and working with the click, deciding on arrangements, then practicing all of that on an instrument, exploring and planning the transitions between songs, rehearsing with the team…..and etc, etc, etc….  All of these things are so important! But what I find is that I can sometimes fail to stop each week and take a fresh look at the lyrics we’ll be singing and leading.  Which is such a bummer! Not to mention a lost opportunity.  Because let’s face it…as amazing and emotive and dynamic as it can be…the music is ultimately the vehicle. It’s the lyrics and the vocals that really communicate the heart of what’s being said.

We can sing the lyrics accurately and nail the melody lines, but if we’re disconnected from the content and heart of what the song is communicating that will generally come across and can diminish our ability to lead well. Here are a few of my thoughts on ways we can approach the lyrics each time as we prepare to lead God’s people in corporate worship.

  1. Consider this a devotional time and invite the Lord to give you a renewed perspective and clarity on each song’s message.
  2. Print out the lyrics, in particular for the songs where you will be the lead voice (or better yet typing or writing them out.. if you have the additional time).  And exclude the chords and other musical notations. We just want the lyrics.
  3. Now read the lyrics. Don’t sing them. Just read them. Out loud even if you’re able. I know this sounds elementary but what can happen with songs we know very well is that over time we become desensitized to their meaning.  So read through them slowly and intentionally, not by rote. This is partly why removing the melody is important. That will force us to view the lyrics entirely on their own, outside of the musical context. Take your time and ponder the words and truths being expressed! And thank the Lord while you’re doing it!
  4. Re-read the lyrics with your Bible handy. For each phrase or section, pause and look for corresponding passages in Scripture, and jot them down next to the lyric lines.  This is admittedly time-consuming, at least initially, but sooo worth it.  This process has left me in tears on more than one occasion as I’ve sat and been ministered to by the Lord as He has reminded me of the truths in a particular song that I’m preparing to lead. And I’m convinced that this impacts our effectiveness. When we have a fresh understanding of what we’re singing and when we engage with the Lord in that moment in genuine worship, those we are leading can sense that and the Lord uses that to draw them into worship as well.  If you do this step regularly, you can keep your notes and refer back to them the next time you lead the same song. (A little side note: There was one time where I knew the lyrics were going to be printed, not projected on a screen, and we included the Scripture references for each song on the printed lyric handouts. I explained this at the start of the service.. and got a lot of great feedback afterward. People appreciated being able to take the lyrics and corresponding Scriptures home with them for their own personal devo time.)
  5.  Prayerfully consider ways you might reinforce the truths you’re singing during the service. This might be by adding a related Scripture reading somewhere in the set, or referencing key lyrics as a way of praying or transitioning between two songs or during the interlude of a song. You might also consider a very brief personal story that relates to the lyrical truths in some way that you could use as you intro the service or a particular song.  Thinking this through ahead of time is especially helpful if you find speaking in front of people more difficult than singing in front of them. You can plan in advance how you might use or reference the lyrics during those brief moments when you’ll be speaking, so that your words contribute to the worship, rather than detract from it.

I hope these thoughts are helpful! In addition to these planning-phase steps, there are also some things that as vocalists we can do (or avoid doing) during the service itself that impact the effectiveness of our ability to communicate, interact with and lead the congregation. But I’ll save that for another post!

Blessings on you all as you plan and prepare to lovingly lead the people God has placed in front of you!

~ Michelle

 

Crafting Your Team’s Vision

So what makes a team great? Why do some teams function smoothly and some…well.. not so much?  Truth be told there are a LOT of factors that go into the success or failure of a team, and most of those (possibly all of them?) start at the leadership level. But one in particular stands out that strikes me as essential, and yet so often is missing from ministries, and that is the ability on the part of leadership to both craft and communicate a team vision. I understand as Christians that if we’re to be truly successful at ministry then it has to be something the Holy Spirit is involved in, but all too often I’ve seen that used as an excuse to avoid any kind of planning, preparation or training.  A verse that comes to mind is Psalm 127:1a,  “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;…..”.  We see both aspects at play here..  our desperate need for the Lord, and also the need for us to plan and work. Anyone who has ever built anything knows it can’t be done well without careful planning and preparation. All throughout Scripture we see examples of the people of God functioning within a framework of the two…prayer and the moving of the Holy Spirit in combination with vision, planning and hard work. Check out the Old Testament book of Nehemiah to see these and many other leadership principles in action!

Ok. So how do we, as creative ministry leaders, go about crafting a vision for our ministries and teams? What does that mean practically?  pexels-photo-296878.jpegHere are three basic elements to consider as you (and possibly a few key leaders from your team) work to create a set of unified goals.

  1. What’s our purpose? Or, why do we do what we do? This needs to be specific and goes way beyond simply stating that we lead people in worship. Actually that’s a very brief observation about what we do, or should be doing, but our teams need to understand the why and what it is we’re truly trying to accomplish.  You should prayerfully work this out for your team specifically, but here’s what I came up with by way of example: To magnify and delight the LORD; to serve the LORD and His church with creative excellence; to effectively lead in praise & worship through music and the other creative arts, so that everyone in our congregation who wants to join us can do so; to proclaim the truths of Scripture, and to evangelize the lost. 
  2. What will ‘success’ look like? This paints out some details on what kinds of results we expect to see if we’re accomplishing our stated purpose. So maybe something like this: As a church family we will grow in our understanding of what it means to live a life of worship, and to worship the LORD in spirit and truth; there will be an increase in the freedom of expression as we corporately engage with the LORD through prayer, scripture and song. As a creative ministry team we will create art of our own that ministers to and expresses the heart of our congregation, and will be continually improving in all aspects of our skills. We will see non-believers come to saving faith in Jesus Christ as we sing and speak the Truth, engage with the community and live out the Gospel in every facet of our lives. 
  3. How do we get there? How must we act and what should our priorities be to facilitate success? Defining this is important because it provides a framework for us and for our teams to operate and make decisions from, thereby maintaining progress toward collective goals. For example you might include things like: Everything we say and do, whether from stage or behind the scenes, must line up with the truth of scripture, therefore, frequent and regular times of prayer and Bible study will be a priority for the team as a whole and for each member individually. The congregation’s needs come before our own needs and desires; we will always work to lead in such a way that they are able to follow, and will teach and encourage them to do so. We must be well-prepared and well-practiced, yet able to serve on short notice, therefore we will be committed to putting in the necessary time for practice at home and rehearsal with the band, as well as in general striving toward improvement and the learning of new skills. We will pursue creative endeavors and will encourage one another and cheer one another on wholeheartedly.  We will always leave room to welcome new team members as the Lord sees fit to add to our number. We will work alongside, and as needed, defer to requests and priorities from those in authority over us. 

pexels-photo-296881.jpegOnce your team’s vision has been crafted, the next step is to communicate it to them! Teams that have a shared vision that everyone understands and can get on board with are far more likely to be productive and ‘successful’ than teams that are trying to function without any order or understanding of where it is they’re all trying to go.  The best way is in person, at a team meeting where everyone is in attendance. I would suggest that you print out copies of your vision in order to facilitate the discussion and also so they can take it home with them.  Use inclusive language as you explain it to make it about the team, not about yourself. Each member needs to take ownership of the vision so that it becomes everyone’s goal and purpose, not just yours. Be ready to dialogue and answer any questions they might have…  Have fun with it and try to create some energy and excitement surrounding it! Finally, be prepared to continue to prayerfully encourage and coach your team! Maybe even coming up with creative ways to remind each other of the vision and holding one another accountable to it as you serve alongside one another in pursuit of excellence!

Whether you’ve recently taken on the responsibility of leading a ministry, or you’ve been in leadership for awhile and are ready to take your crew to the next level, I hope this encourages you and sparks some great conversations for you and your team!  No matter how well our teams are currently functioning, there’s always room for improvement ~ Michelle

Psalm 33…Shout for Joy!

I recently revisited the familiar passage of Psalm 33 v1-3.  You probably know it.

1. Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones;
Praise is becoming to the upright.
2. Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
3. Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.  

                                   Psalm 33:1-3 (NASB)

I’ve read these verses countless times before and I don’t recall what drew me to them on this particular occasion, but I love how there’s always something new to glean from even the most familiar of passages.  These days I primarily read from a Strong’s New American Standard version on my favorite Bible app , and I was struck by the use of the word ‘sing’ in each of these three verses, which I guess I had never really noticed before. Now, other translations don’t necessarily use the word ‘sing’ in time, but the NASB does.  Anyway in our language the definition of this word seems pretty straightforward, but I decided to do a quick word study in the original and I’m so glad I did! The first point of interest to me is that each of the three words translated as ‘sing’ in English are actually three different words in the original Hebrew language, with similar meanings yet each one conveying different implications and nuances. Here’s what I was able to unpack.

In Verse 1, “sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright.” ,  the original word is rânan, which means: to creak (or emit a stridulous sound), i.e. to shout — aloud for joy, cry out, be joyful (greatly, make to) rejoice, (cause to) shout (for joy), (cause to) sing (aloud, for joy,), triumph.  For starters, this verse is an exhortation to the entire body of Christ. All of the Church. His bride. His sons and daughters. All of us. Not just the worship leader or the worship team. The first part of the definition interests me. “to creak or emit a stridulous sound“.  I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve had someone approach me and say that they love corporate praise & worship but they themselves can’t carry a tune (they say) so they just listen. I think they’ve meant it in the context of a compliment generally, but it’s so unfortunate that they have felt the need to sing silently instead of, as this verse says, “aloud” and “cry(ing) out”.  I’ve tried to encourage them to sing anyway! To remind them that the Lord is looking at our hearts and our intent, and He doesn’t care about how beautiful our voices may or may not be. We’re all to sing, and shout! And to do so with great joy and triumph!  Also it says right there in the verse that “praise is becoming to the upright”!  So God finds it lovely and beautiful when all of His people praise Him!

For verse 2, “sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings”, the meaning is more or less what you might think taken in the context of the English phrasing. The original word here is zâmar; and means: “to touch the strings or parts of a musical instrument, i.e. play upon it; to make music, accompanied by the voice; hence to celebrate in song and music: — give praise, sing forth praises, psalms”.   So…  making music accompanied by vocals… and to celebrate in song!  This verse paints the picture that along with the myriad of joyous voices are the musicians playing their instruments. The last phrase in verse 3 reiterates this idea of certain people “play(ing) skillfully” and “with a shout of joy.”

The Hebrew word for ‘sing’ in the first half of verse 3, sing to Him a new song”,  is šiyr; which implies the idea of “strolling minstrelsy”.  That was unexpected! We don’t use the English word minstrel very much these days so I Googled it for a bit more insight and found that it dates back to medieval times and is a reference to a “singer or musician, especially one who sang or recited lyric or heroic poetry to a musical accompaniment for the nobility”.   I also discovered that this same Hebrew word is found in 1 Samuel 18v6, and paints for us a picture of the meaning of the word:..”When David returned from killing the Philistine (Goliath), that the women came out …., singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with joy and with musical instruments.”  I love that! The imagery and realization that we are to collectively sing and play music to exalt and delight our King Jesus! That we are coming out to meet Him, as it were, and shower Him with the praise and adoration He deserves.

Two other things about verse 3 to point out are that we’re to create new songs, and we’re to play skillfully. I’ve heard it said over the years, and have in the past said myself, that we’re not to be performing when we lead worship. But I’m not sure that’s entirely correct. We absolutely need to be continuously monitoring our motivations, and should not be trying to promote or bring glory to ourselves, so in that sense then yes we shouldn’t be ‘performing’.  But these verses seem pretty clear that we should desire and strive to play with as much skill as we can. That we are not only leading the congregation in praise and worship to the Lord but we are also presenting to Him the songs that we’ve prepared and we need to give it everything we have. Jesus is our noble King and He deserves our praise and adoration and that we would play and lead with as much skill as possible. And we’re to write new songs and poems and create beautiful visual arts as well. I think that as believers, the creative process is also a form of the praise and worship that we offer to Jesus.

One last thought is for those of us who lead worship to evaluate our leadership of the people God has asked us to serve. Do I lovingly lead in such a way that they are free to be expressive and joyful in the ways these few verses describe? Am I setting that example? Actually not just me but the entire team? Is everyone on stage singing and leading with instruments doing so with joyous faces and with heartfelt singing? Or.. not? And if not then how can we address it and make improvements? How can we encourage and/or what do we need to teach? I think for the most part our congregations won’t be more expressive in worship than we are. So asking ourselves these types of questions and dialoguing with our teams on a regular basis is vital.

Blessings to you as you continue to purse excellence in the art of worship leading!  ~ Michelle

 

Photo from Pexels.