Feeding Lyrics During Worship

It’s a common practice among worship leaders to “feed” lyrics to the congregation before a verse or chorus or any part where a little extra emphasis could be used. It’s also good when teaching a new song or if for some reason your lyric screens go blank or freeze or some problem arises where the congregation is left without words to reference. It’s not something that needs to be done every song but isn’t necessarily distracting either. But as I have discovered this is a practice that can also be very distracting during worship. You have to really plan ahead to make sure that you are “cheerleading” or “feeding” words at the appropriate time in the songs. Take for example my mistake last Sunday. We were singing Days of Elijah which is a great song with a bridge that is maybe a little extended for my taste. Anyway at the bridge as the band is getting bigger and the song is building momentum I decide to emphasize the upcoming lyrics. I didn’t plan my time between phrases real well and was left saying, Let’s sing it out There’s no God…” Oops! Maybe no one realized it except the 2-3 atheists forced to come that day by a relative or friend. Well I noticed and just laughed to myself and moved on. I guess the main point here, the general thesis or what I am trying to say, the central theme for this blog post is to be aware of the phrase break time and the words you want to fit into them. Otherwise you may find yourself on stage shouting “let’s sing it out, Touch Me…” and garnering some strange looks from some.

Apathetic Worship

I am not a creature of habit. I normally fight routine and ruts as much as I can. While in college I had to keep a post-it note on my apartment door that listed the things that most people never forget because they are part of their daily routine. The note read; Wallet, Keys, Phone, Glasses. Yeah I can’t count the number of days I left one of those very important items behind. Nonetheless it is very easy to get stuck in a rut. There have been times and still are when as much as I fight it I get stuck in routines. Marriages struggle when things just become a routine, work, relationships, and so much more. And that goes for Church and Worship. I just go because I am supposed to. I sing the songs and just go through the motions (which is real strange when singing “The Motions” by Matthew West – it’s just so darn literal). Full disclosure – there are Sundays, even as a worship leader, that I feel more like I am going through the motions than anything else. It has to show, there is no way I can lead with an apathetic attitude and it not show. I never want to offer vain worship but I must admit there are days when that is what I am doing.

So how can we prevent our Sunday worship experience from being just another part of our routine? How can we prevent apathetic worship? My theory stems from Micah 6:8 “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” You see the people of Israel had rejected the covenant God had made with them, they had forgotten how God had brought them out of slavery. You see our public worship is only a small part of our total commitment to Christ and if Monday-Saturday we are not remembering what God has done for us and not worshipping days other than Sunday they how do we suppose we can just offer something on Sunday’s and it really be sincere? We must walk humbly with our God everyday to be in a correct attitude when it comes to Sunday worship.

John 4:23 reminds us that “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” One must come to God in complete sincerity and with a spirit that is directed by the life and activity of the Holy Spirit. Our life must be directed by the Holy Spirit, not just our Sundays. You see these things require intentional thought that can help us prevent the worship routine.

What do you think? How can we prevent worship from becoming just part of the weekly routine and something more intentional that we approach with a humble heart? Have you ever found yourself just going through the motions on Sundays (or any other days really)?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

The Most Important Part of Worship Band Rehearsal

Obviously the most important things during any worship band rehearsal are prayer and worship.  That should be at the top of any worship band’s list.  That aside, what would you say the most important part of the rehearsal?  For me there is nothing more important for our worship band rehearsals than some jam time.  Plain and simple, unscripted time to just be musicians.  I know, your rehearsal time is tightly scheduled and allowing 10 minutes of seemingly unproductive time is hard to imagine.  But let me give you a few good reasons to allow your band to just jam for a bit next time they get together.

1. The more you play together as a band the more you know each other and how you play, where your going musically, and generally just a better feel for how each other plays and hears the music.  Yes this can be done during regular rehearsals.  But regular rehearsals tend to be too structured to really get a feel for how each musicians plays.  It builds confidence in each other and can lead to better spontaneity in your worship.  The more you play together the more you know where each person is going.

2. It’s fun.  I don’t know if every worship rehearsal runs like ours but at times it can tend to get tedious, repetitious, and just promote a lackluster attitude through the team.  It happens, not often, but it happens.  Taking a few minutes to just play without regard to perfect notes, parts, or timing, can lead to an endorphin charged rehearsal.  It always goes better when people are relaxed and happy.  (if that doesn’t work just give them coffee – that always works for musicians)

3. Jam sessions can lead to new music.  I don’t know if you are a team or worship leader that writes music but if so, this is a great tool to do so.  When I have written in the past, (i am suffering from major writer’s block – need to get over my fear of crappy music) writing during and through jam sessions was my absolute favorite way to write.  You get a great feel for how a song wants to develop when instruments are in.  You hear different harmonics than you would with just a piano or just a guitar.

4. It encourages creativity.  Let’s face it, many worship songs you probably play have very similar chord progressions.  Chances are you will end up jamming on one that is similar to a song you will play during service.  This can lead you to find new ways to treat the chords, arrangements, instrumentation, and so much more.  Let these jam sessions encourage and lead you to find new ways to use your gifts, instruments, and talents (unless this leads you to trying to create a cooler newer arrangement of Lord I Lift Your Name on High – that song did it’s job, had it’s day – now it needs to go away, far, far away).

5. It allows instrumentalists opportunity to flex their skills when they might not normally get a chance too do so.  Nobody needs a guitar player soloing over ever inch of a worship song.  But at the same time it is hard to ask many talented musicians to come in week after week to play power chords and cross pick 4 chords.  Giving them time to show off their chops, get their guitar solo face on, and just let loose is a good thing (be warned that if not contained to a jam session that guitar solo face may rear its head in the middle of a slow worshipful moment).  And you may just find out more about your instrumentalists ability, restraint, and musicality than you knew before.

6. You can worship with no lyrics.  There I said it.  Yep you don’t have to speak or sing to actually worship.  I know crazy eh?  The simplest jam session can turn into a full fledged time of worship before you know it.  To me these are some of the most powerful moments in worship.  Take a moment to read this quote found written on a German Opera House.

“Bach gave us God’s word,
Beethoven gave us God’s fire,
Mozart gave us God’s laughter,
God gave us music so that we may pray without words.”

So don’t be afraid to pencil in some time to just let someone pick a chord progression and go to town as a worship band.  You may be surprised to find out how much it can benefit your worship service.

I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences with this idea.  Do you have time allowed to just jam as a band?  Has it been beneficial?  Has it been not so great?

5 Reasons for a Choir in Modern Worship Services

It was about a year ago when I was asked to begin directing our church choir.  At the mention of the idea chills ran up and down my spine as if the company you rented the sound system from messed up the ground loop and your slightly wet lips completed the loop as you begin to sing the first words and strum the first power chord on your electric guitar.  I mean I have sang in a number of choirs through school and church but never had thought I could direct one.  My Original thoughts were honestly that we would slowly begin weening out the choir and favor a more contemporary and modern service.  A majority of the music we received through the major choral music companies was way to over orchestrated and didn’t seem to really fit with the worship band scenario (not all products were like that but you have to look long and hard to find the ones not completely driven by horns and strings).  That being said it has been about a year since I began directing our choir and to be honest, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I have come to love directing our choir and am finding that it fits in so much better with a contemporary and modern music style than I would have thought.  So much so, that I strongly recommend a choir in modern worship and here is why.

1. Visual Energy – I am a big believer in the importance of visual energy.  If the person/people leading worship are visually engaging, (not distracting or for show which can sometimes be a fine line but is better hashed out in length in another post) then it engages the congregation as well.  Basically if you don’t look like you are enjoying worship (ha ha think worship pain face – you know what i’m talking about) or even look as if you are worshipping then how can you expect those you lead to enjoy or worship.  A choir in a modern worship service provides a great visual energy.  Though I have never directed a choir before I was always enthralled with the gospel choir – the energy and engagement they provide just draws you in like a moth to a candle flame.  That is what I am talking about – a large group of people in total worship and engagement breaks down some barriers for those who might be uncomfortable otherwise.

2. Built in Group Who Know New Songs – I witnessed this once on a Hillsong DVD where they were teaching a large group some new songs so that they were able to sing with the band and Joel (grant it, it was because they were recording a live DVD and who wants a crowd who doesn’t know the songs).  But think about it, sometimes as we introduce new songs the congregation can be uncomfortable singing along because they don’t know the lyrics.  And while it may not seem logical that they would magically know the lyrics if a choir happened to be singing as well, I have found better response to brand new songs when we have a choir singing along.  There just seems to be some visual connection when seeing a large group singing to feeling more apt to sing along as well (as long as you actually teach them the song prior to service – sorry those in our choir for forgetting this crucial idea from time to time ha ha).  Plus sonically it’s nice to have the sound of many voices making the unfamiliar familiar.

3. Ministry Involvement – Let’s face it, sometimes it is hard to involve everybody that wants to be involved in the music ministry.  It either becomes a scheduling nightmare which never pleases anyone, or you have to tell someone they can’t serve with their giftings (and full disclosure not to be simon but that still takes place sometimes and I am still not sure if it is for the best or not… again another post).  But what better way to garner, energy, excitement, and involvement from those who want to serve and worship?  I have seen some churches go as far as just creating a worship choir who – for all intensive purposes – are just congregation sitting/standing on or behind stage with no real micing just involvement in worship. No matter how you go about it, it is a great way to connect people to a ministry within the church plain and simple.

4.Vocal Adrenaline – we talked about the visual energy brought through a choir but there is a distinct audio energy that exists with a choir as well.  Simple physics would teach us that the more people you have singing the same thing the more energy produced per note – More people = more loud!!!! (but our choir goes to 11).  For certain modern worship songs this is just a huge plus for the whole feel of the song – I am thinking Fee, Tomlin, and others that create wonderful musical and vocal energy.  There is just something powerful behind a large group of people lifting up the name of Jesus together and in my opinion it provides wonderful worship leading.

5. It is a Blessing – I realize I don’t have a lot of experience as a choir director but let me share how much fun this experience has been.  Yes it has been hard at times, challenging at others, but most of all this has been a huge blessing.  It has grown me spiritually, mentally, musically, and has allowed for musical diversity in our services beyond what we would do without a choir.  You may not choose to go down the road of Choir specials and anything other than modern worship music with a worship band but for us it has allowed us to present worship in many different ways and connect better with those who come to worship with us.  Yes we pull choir music from the most modern music as well as liturgical, hymns, a cappella, southern gospel, and more.  Sometimes we “modernize” the music (a lot of times we use the arrangements for structure and vocal arrangement but band-wise we play like the modern worship recordings which yields pretty cool results) and sometimes we stay traditional.  And we as a church, as a music department, as a band, and as worshippers are better for having our choir being a huge part of who we are.

Yes there are challenges to a choir – stage space, to robe or not to robe debate, micing the choir, rehearsal schedules, more people always means more challenges in keeping the peace.  But in my experience it is so much more of a blessing to join together and worship with a choir than anything else.

Does your church use a choir?  How does it utilize one? Do you see a complementary relationship between a choir and the modern music style?  What are your thoughts?

Non-Lyric Lyrics in Worship. La De Da De De: Scatting for Jesus

Have you come across a worship song that used the lyrics La La La before?  You know what I am talking about those songs that have sections or parts where the voices are acting more like Martin Sexton mimicking a horn section than actual lyrics with any message.  Lincoln Brewster has done this in a number of songs, Hillsong from time to time, and numerous other worship artists have used non-lyric lyrics.

So how do they translate into our worship services?  More progressive and younger churches seem to have no problem incorporating them.  They find that those moments connect well with their congregants.  Some congregations don’t use them or even omit those parts from the songs.  “It just feels awkward singling fa la la la la” I heard someone say one Sunday after service.  It got me thinking about how we view those moments in worship.

Personally I like it, I don’t see much difference from using your voice as an instrument and a actual instrument covering the same part.  And music without lyrics can and should be used as worship.  On the wall of a German Opera House a quote reads, “Bach gave us God’s word, Beethoven gave us God’s fire, Mozart gave us God’s laughter, God gave us music so that we may pray without words.”  I love the idea that in those moments you as a church become a corporate instrument all playing the same part.  But that doesn’t remove the awkwardness one can feel while in worship and singing the words they remember from the smurfs.

As a worship leader do you teach and instruct on the benefits of non-lyric lyrics?  Do you just remove those parts from those songs?  Do you shy away from those songs?  Or do you just simply continue on with them and hope people eventually make the same connection (as if you will ever have 100% understanding and participation in anything)?  My tendency is to teach and instruct for that would be a defining quality of a worship leader (I would hope – to teach and lead people in worship).

So if we can view those moments are truly a part of our worship, and a part of our music then I say we continue to sing without words when appropriate and worship our Maker.  In scripture we find a number of references to music outside of singing used to worship the Lord. (Psalm 21:13, 71:22, 135:3, Ephesians 5:18b-19)  Let our voices be a generous instrument unto the Lord, continue to worship, raise your arms in praise, clap your hands, and to feel the presence of God wrapped around you in melody and song.

What do you think?  Do those moments make you feel connected or awkward?  Would you rather always use words or can simple syllables be worship?

When It All Goes Wrong…

I attended a conference some years back where I had a chance to hear Tim Hughes speak about his experiences as a worship leader.  We sat in the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and listened in as he shared some serious, humorous, and insightful stories from his life.  So many years later I still remember one particular story that I’m sure was not the general thesis for his talk but nevertheless is what has stuck with me.  He began to talk about one of every worship leaders fears, screwing up live.  What do you do when you start a song way to fast, to high, to low, to slow (in a boat with a fox whose wearing blue socks)?  What do you do if you just completely botch a song or a moment in the middle of worship?  Do you truck on through, stop, attempt to right the ship?

In a light hearted attempted to begin discussing this very fear, Tim explained:  (this is not an exact quote as I don’t have that great of a memory it was like 4 years ago goodness)

(Read with british accent) If you happen to start a song to to fast, slow, high, low or what-have-you just do you best to make it through the first chorus, stop put your hands out, close your eyes, mumble “Yes, Lord,” “Worthy,” “We Worship You,” or something similar and then start again in the correct key or tempo.  Your congregation will think you are having a super spiritual moment and you can correct the false start and continue with worship.

Now every person in the place erupted with laughter as Tim sarcastically explained in a tongue and cheek fashion how to restart a song without looking like you screwed up.  But let’s face it, we all screw up from time to time (and we all blame it on the drummer regardless – come on be honest).   And in our best efforts to remove distractions from the worship time we can sometimes add them because, well, we are not perfect and no matter how much you rehearse, sometimes you just screw up!

A few weeks back it happened to us (well at least I am admitting this one – many others have happened that hopefully no one noticed but us on stage).  We were in the middle of our second service attempting to start a very high energy and tricky choir number when all of the sudden BOOM half the band started while the other half missed the cue, the 3 soloists just tapped their hands on their legs in rhythm and forced a smile as the choir looked around at each other asking what to do.  Oh yeah that train-wreck scenario you pray never happens, happened.  We had a new drummer who was a little nervous (see we all do it) and as he counted off others just misses a stick click or two and there you have it.

As I stood in front of the choir pointlessly waiving my hand like I was still conducting anything I began to think about what to do.  Should I just truck on and hope we all get on track soon?  Should I attempt the Tim  Hughes solution?  James 3:2 popped into my head: We all stumble in many ways.(NIV)  I cut everyone off explained to the congregation that you know what, we screwed up and we were gonna try that again, and we did.

You know it’s human nature to always want to look like we always have it all together.  Truth is – we don’t.  Even the most rehearsed worship band will screw up.  It’s times like these when we must decide whether or not to admit it or just hope no one noticed.  I remember doing a solo acoustic gig and the microphone and microphone clip were not a perfect match causing the mic to pop out of the clip mid song and fall to the ground.  In that moment I bent down picked it up, put it back in the clip and continued as if nothing happened (unfortunately that one was caught on video).

As worship leaders it is important to remember we are not expected to be perfect.  We are not expected to never allow distractions to slip in.  We are not expected to control things beyond our control.  What we are expected to is allow God to work through us, all of us, our imperfections, insecurities, and weaknesses just as much as our strengths.

Have you ever had a train wreck moment in worship? How about a train wreck experience in any part of life?  How did you respond?  What did God teach you through that moment?

5 Ways the Worship Leader is Responsible for the Sound…

Wednesday nights are a popular night for worship teams to gather and rehearse for the coming Sunday.  That is true at my church and most churches I am familiar with.  As I mentioned in a previous post, there is a tension between Worship Leader and Sound Person.  And  I know the title of this post probably has church sound techs and sound techs in general cringing and cursing my name for the mere thought but hear me out.  I am in no way encouraging a Worship Leader to tell a sound tech how to do their job.  And I am in no way suggestion anyone on stage knows what it sounds like off stage or could know better than the person mixing.  Here is what I am suggesting… Better sound starts at the stage! In essence the job of the sound tech and sound system is to make louder what it is given.  So better sound going in – better sound coming out. (garbage in – garbage out – that ole chestnut)

Here are 5 Ways the Worship Leader is responsible for the Sound

  1. Number of Musicians: I realize that we want as many people to volunteer and connect as possible but do you honestly need that many guitar players?  Only use the musicians that are needed for a song.
  2. Tone: The way a song sounds is ultimately your vision.  I realize it is difficult to tell a guitar player or vocalist that their tone needs tweaked but remember it is our job to remove distractions from worship.  Encourage your band and ensemble members to find appropriate tones for the type and feel of the song.  This can make a world of difference.
  3. Rotate groups of musicians and not just members if at all possible.  The reasoning is that the longer a group plays together the better they understand each other.  They begin to play as a group better and respond better to spontaneous changes.  Something as simple as having a “jam” time will allow the group to gel better and provide better results for Sunday.
  4. Learning to play is easy, learning NOT to play is hard.  Don’t be afraid of space in your music.  Don’t be afraid to tell a player that they are overplaying in a section.  You are really acting as a producer of the song and worship set.  More can be said in the silence than 1000 voices together at times.
  5. Begin teaching your vocalist about what they need to hear and not just what they want to hear.  It is very very very common to continually want more of “me.”  I have been in situations where the monitors have become louder than the PA to satisfy people on stage.  How you ask? Begin by having your vocalists sing without microphones or monitors and minimal band to train their ears for the blend.  Then slowly add in monitors and band.  This is not an easy or short process but when people can learn to hear what they really need to hear (which is usually much more of everyone else and less of just them than they thing) your sound will only get better.  (also teach them how to work a mic)

These are not always the easiest to implement in every situation.  I myself am still working on all of these.  As worship leaders we are responsible for helping the sound crew do the best job they can do.  Starting down this path and keeping communication open between your sound crew, band, ensemble and you is paramount to creating better sound and a better overall worship experience.
Was this helpful?  What did I miss?  What is your advice (from worship leader, sound person, or church-goer)?