Wednesday, February 5, 2014


One question that I see a lot from young worship leaders is how to speak or what to say while leading worship. For me, talking was my biggest insecurity because I didn't want to say something awkward and felt safe within the song lyrics. Over time, I've been able to step out from behind the lyrics and have seen how valuable it is in engaging people's hearts in worship.

I don't claim to have all the answers but there are a few "DO's" and "DONT'S" I've learned over the years which have helped me in setting up, transitioning and closing corporate worship times.

Study the lyrics of the songs you'll be leading in advance.
As you read/sing/pray through the lyrics during preparation, ask God to show you a verse or a short illustration that you can use which will allow the lyrics to evoke a deeper personal response as people are singing them. What you say should just be an extension of what God is showing you in your daily spiritual walk.

Begin corporate worship with a definition of worship.
Understand that your corporate worship gathering will most likely consist of a few non-believers and/or young believers...those who may not understand why we stand and sing together. Providing a definition of what worship is and how your church expresses it (singing, clapping, raising hands) helps them understand what is going on around them.

Direct verbal transitions toward God, not people.
Most worship songs are prayers set to a melody.  Allow your speaking to be an extension of the song, not a pep rally cheer. The congregation is much more likely to engage when the worship leader is modeling worship, not demanding or coercing it.  Your transition prayer doesn't have to be super eloquent and should not be very long.  Perhaps it's just thanking God for a truth about Himself that He revealed to you during your preparation or even while you were leading the song. If possible, write it out ahead of time and memorize it if you have to. Eventually, it will flow naturally.

Encourage members of your worship team to share during corporate worship.
I know in larger churches it can be difficult for people in the congregation to really get to know the people on your worship team. The less people know you, the harder it is for them to trust and follow your leadership.  I encourage our team to listen to the lyrics during their weekly preparation and then I challenge them at rehearsal to share what God revealed to them.  Sometimes, if I believe what they share is what our church needs to hear, I'll have them share it during worship.  I give them a time limit and help them frame what they're going to say. This allows the congregation to see the non-performance side of our worship team while building trust with the congregation.

Go longer than 90 seconds.
After that, people tune out and don't care about what you have to say anymore.  Going longer can be an irritant to your pastor as well.  You don't want to cut into his teaching time or steal his thunder.

Point out how the congregation is NOT demonstrating the desired response.
Putting the congregation on a guilt trip is the biggest worship killer out there. Instead, give people permission to express their worship as God leads.  Growing up in a conservative Baptist church, the only biblical expression I saw was singing. If people understand there are other expressions described in Scripture and that it's OK, more people will begin to demonstrate the response we're looking for.

Don't use corporate worship as a time to give a mini-sermon on how the congregation should be worshiping.  Either ask your pastor to do that or see if he'll allow you to speak on a given Sunday.

Use filler
Make your prayers and illustrations inentional and different from the lyrics that are sung.  Never lead into a phrase by quoting it before it's sung or by repeating a line you've just sung.  This also applies to ending every song with "amen" or some other cliche phrase.  Be aware of bad habits that have crept into your worship leading.

I hope this helps. I know that putting these things into practice have really helped me become a better worship leader.

I'd be interested in hearing what you've done to help your speaking/transitioning during corporate worship.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I spent a lot of time working on my car last month...

I replaced the side door after it got smashed in, changed out all the fluids, replaced the rear brakes, replaced the front grill, washed it, vacuumed it, and buffed out all the scratches. Needless to say, when I was done it was nice to stand back, admire it and turn it on to hear how nicely the engine was running. Then it hit me... all of my work and admiration is pointless unless I take it for a drive somewhere.

Corporate worship in many of our churches today is much like how I approached my car. We put a ton of work into production excellence and even stand in the congregation and admire our worship band (like I did my spruced-up car) with the goal of reaching unchurched people. But could we have it all wrong? Have we limited the number of people we could reach by describing our services solely in terms of appearance and sound? Have we talked so much about the style, the size, the quality and the comfort of our worship that we set people up to "admire" the "ride" without ever getting in and allowing it to take them to a destination?

Or have we kept people from going for a ride altogether because the description of our worship didn't fit their "features list".  Let's not forget that worship is expressed in all shapes and sizes.  In preparing for and promoting our worship, let's not lock the door before people ever have a chance to get in. I liken it to renting a car to drive to my favorite vacation spot. When I go to pick it up, the rental company doesn't have the car I requested.  While taken aback, I'll put up with a color I don't like, a less than adequate stereo system and limited head room because I know where I'm headed. Those coming into worship want to go somewhere and will put up with a little discomfort once they know the ride is worth taking.

Worship Leaders, set a plan in place for excellence of art, pleasing aesthetics and increasing involvement but PLEASE don't use these internal goals as a way to externally promote or respond in worship at your church.  Do everything you can to steer away from appeasing the consumer mentality in our worship settings today. Describe the destination, not the ride.

While the appearance and sound of your worship should be a priority to you, your pastor and the artists on your team, they mean very little to the people in your congregation who are hurting, self-reliant, stagnant, and broken. They're desiring something deeper...and so is God.

So as you prepare to lead, make your #1 goal to pray that God will promote and facilitate His presence, pleasure, power and purpose through you and your team and allow the other goals to follow behind.  If you do this, people will engage and God's heart will rejoice! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Is Your Worship Team Healthy?

The most effective worship team is the one which functions with a clear vision, unified by the power of the Holy Spirit. That's why we set aside nights and weekends a few times a year for team building, vision casting and to honor our team members.  The great thing about team nights and retreats is that they work for any size worship ministry.  Team building can be accomplished through something as simple as treating your team to coffee or a snack after rehearsal.  However, if you want to do more in-depth vision casting, a team night or retreat is the best atmosphere.

Not only do these times provide spiritual refreshment and refocus, they also allow us to provide musical development and build community.  Here at Deep Creek, we've accomplished this through corporate worship (which they DO NOT lead), personal devotion, prayer, breakouts, games, sharing, writing and more. Sometimes we even use these times to preview and prepare new music for a night of worship or seasonal outreach event.

From time to time, it's important for our teams to be encouraged and inspired by someone other than myself in a location that's not the same place they worship every week.  So this year for our annual retreat, we're going to a retreat center less than an hour away and I'm bringing in a friend from out of state who is the worship pastor of a very successful worship ministry.  I've given him an overview of our ministry, it's strengths and weaknesses, and a general theme.  The two of us will lead worship and tag team the main teaching times.

My prayer is that our time together will be allow God to move us forward with a clearer vision of where He wants to to take us and hearts surrendered to His leading.

We can all benefit from sharing creative ways we accomplish team building, spiritual depth, musical growth and vision casting.  If you've utilized a retreat or team night in your ministry, please share what you've done!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Using Kids To Lead Worship

Twice a year, we have our KFC (Kids For Christ) Choir lead worship in our main weekend worship gatherings. These weekends are always a highlight for our church and for our worship team.  We love these kids and they do an amazing job!  They helped lead worship this past weekend and it made me think of the benefit it's been to our church.

I'm sure many of you utilize your children to lead worship for their peers, but if you don't utilize your children to help lead worship for the main worship services, here are a couple of reasons we've come up with for why we believe it's a good thing:

  1. As the children prepare for leading worship, we emphasize the idea of offering "worship", not a performance. It's a time for us to teach them that voices and talent are given to us to use as an expression of God's glory, not our own.  We help them understand that they will be "leading" the congregation in offering praise to God.  This helps them understand that they are not the "star" of the show, but instruments God uses so He can be the star.
  2. Having children lead worship this young is great training ground for a smooth transition into the adult worship team.  We allow 14-year-olds on our worship team; so for the kids in the choir, it puts a desire in their heart to continue on when they get into middle school.  These kids also have a much easier time expressing their worship in front of people because being on a stage is not foreign to them.
  3. Teaching these children to lead modern worship gives them a love for modern worship music that will carry with them through their high school and college years. These are the years that children who are raised in the church tend to walk away.  If we can foster a love for worship music, it will be something they will turn back to down the road.
Here's the video of our kids leading worship last Sunday.

Do you use your children to lead worship?  What benefits have you seen?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fixed or Rotating Worship Team?

I'v seen two major approaches to developing and scheduling worship teams...The FIXED TEAM approach and the ROTATING TEAM approach. 

Some leaders like to choose a FIXED TEAM that they work with week after week. The argument with this approach is that the members get to know each other intimately and are able to connect musically, emotionally and spiritually with great ease and comfort.  This is a bonded, high-functioning team with great flexibility and freedom.  They've learned to work off of each other and can anticipate each other's moves.  Because they play and sing every week, they keep their skills well-honed and lead worship with excellence and limited distraction. 

Some leaders choose ROTATING TEAMS.  Leaders who use this approach have team members sing or play about once or twice a month and typically serve with a different group of people each time they lead.  This approach allows many more volunteers to serve and use their gifts in the church.  It also gives leaders a great opportunity to mentor and train artists within their church.  This approach requires a larger investment of time and energy on the part of the leader to create excellence and spiritual connectedness in worship but keeps worship team members from "burn out" with a pool of people ready to fill in when a team member gets sick or has to go out of town.

I know that a leader's approach will depend a lot on the amount of time they have to invest in their ministry, the size of their ministry and the resources they have to pull from.  This post is not to say one approach is better than the other.  There are pros and cons to both depending on the situation.

That being said, I've had the privilege of serving in churches where there is a good amount of talent.  As a pastor, I believe my role needs to be what's outlined in Ephesians 4:11-12; an equipper of worshiping artists to do the work on ministry. In light of that, for me to pick a team of the most gifted in our church and using only them has never been an option for me. I know it would allow our church to have consistent excellence, more creativity in worship and a lot less work for me but I would feel as if I wasn't fulfilling my role as a pastor; I want to allow every gifted person in our congregation an opportunity to grow and use their gifts for leading worship.

I understand the necessity of excellence and creativity in our worship, especially in today's culture which can be very critical of the church and its music. To me, it's worth the extra effort and sacrifice of a musically professional presentation to see people grow in their artistic expression and work toward excellence.  When we create fixed teams that make leading easier, we have to guard against going into "auto pilot".  There's a little bit of insecurity and thus, dependence on the Holy Spirit with a rotating team that doesn't always exist in a fixed team setting.  Let' s not assume that the Holy Spirit doesn't use this dependence to reach even the most cynical critic.

So what situation are you in?  Do you use a FIXED TEAM approach or a ROTATING TEAM approach?  Why? 

If you use the FIXED TEAM approach, how do you deal with new musicians who come into your church?  What do you do when someone on your team needs to take a break and you need someone to fill in?

If you use the ROTATING TEAM approach, how do you work to develop musical excellence and spiritual bonding when you don't have the same team every week?

Let's get the ideas rolling.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Now That's A Great Setlist! Planning With Purpose

I've been asked a few times what my strategy is for planning a worship service setlist.  I'm excited when I get this question because it tells me that there are worship leaders who are intentional about the progression of their services.

As much as I'm a proponent of putting together songs of like key, tempo and theme, there's much  more that needs to be considered.  As worship leaders, we have the incredible privilege of taking worshipers on a journey with a desired destination.  The best worship service planner will look at this journey from the perspective of the worshiper in the congregation.  Even those worship leaders who have limited planning time during the week should prioritize purposeful progression of songs in a service.  It must be more than just throwing together whatever they've got on their favorite iTunes or Spotify playlists or the lastest stuff on Air-1 or K-Love.  Worship leaders who do this, do a disservice to the worshipers in their congregations.  We could be quenching the Spirit by not allowing them to go as far as God wants to take them.

For example, two songs may fit perfectly together musically but are in completely different worlds as far as direction, response, theme, and progression.  We must ask ourselves if the worshiper in the congregation is able to sing the words with an understanding of what's going on at that moment in relation to where they just came from.  This allows the worshiper to go beyond the music and allows God to penetrate to deepest parts.   That will never happen when the worshiper stands with their mouth hanging open because the worship leader just jolted them from a soul-searching song of surrender into a high-energy song of praise without any progression or preparation.

We also need to be conscientious about how we begin and end our times of worship.  I would probably never begin a time of worship with a song that calls on God to refine and mold us.  We're not ready!  Personally, I need to see who God is in light of who I am and allow Him into that secret place before I'm going to ask Him to work on me.  Remember, too, that most people coming into worship are already feeling anxious because they had to park in Timbuktu, make a pitstop in the restroom, say hi to their friends, and run their kids to children's church.  In that case, they're not thinking about what sins they need to confess.  They need time to de-focus from the "stuff" of life and re-focus their affections on God.

In addition, part of the journey we take worshipers on is allowing them to respond to what God is already revealing to them in their hearts, not necessarily what they want to hear driven by their musical preference.  We need to be very in-tune with what's going on in our culture locally, nationally, globally and within our church (i.e. a message series).

I know there are going to be people in our services that will never go on the journey with us, but we need to do all we can to give them that opportunity.  So many times, we make people sing words they don't mean because we haven't taken the time to prepare them adequately.  Shame on us!

So what is a good strategy?  There is no formula for invoking the Holy Spirit in our worship.  He works and wills as He pleases. However, as we take time to listen, pray, read His word and ponder what He's doing in our hearts, here's a progression that I try to follow.  When the theme of the songs go in this order, it tends to help the worshiper make the most of their time of worship:
  1. Glorious, joyful praise to God, reflecting on His attributes of power, majesty, glory, etc.
  2. My state of sin in light of God's glory and an invitation for God to work
  3. Thanksgiving for God's provision and love demonstrated for us through Jesus and the cross
  4. Surrender and response to God's forgiveness, mercy, grace. Confession, etc.
  5. Personal action, declaration of faith, future of the church 
Do you have a plan for planning the songs in your service?  We'd all love to hear it.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Help! I'm The New Leader of an Established Worship Ministry

This weekend we had Exodus, one of the ministry teams from Liberty University, lead worship in our modern worship service.  Most of them were worship ministry majors and planning on going into full time worship ministry in the near future.  I really enjoyed hearing what God was doing in their lives and where He was leading them.

Ironically, the leader of the band has a full time position at a church of 6,000 waiting for him as soon as he graduates in May.  He brought up a situation that he'll be walking into. Even though it may not be at a church this large, it's probably not too foreign to many who are just starting out in worship ministry or transitioning from one ministry to another.

The concern he brought up was how he was going to handle band members who have been on the worship team a long time and are expecting to be "grandfathered in" but don't necessarily have the skill that's needed to take the ministry where he wants to see it go.  He doesn't want to create enemies right away or discourage people from serving but also realizes that there will be frustration all the way around if he continues to allow them to be on the team. Here is what I offered to him that might help the situation:

  1. SHARE YOUR VISION FIRST THING: As soon as you arrive, have a "Get To Know You" Team Night with all of your worship ministry volunteers where you can share your vision for the ministry.  Make your expectations EXTREMELY clear and don't be afraid to set them high.  This should include a very detailed picture of what you want the worship ministry to look in 18 months.  Don't forget to let them know that you're looking at more than just music reading, harmonizing and improvisational ability but that you're also looking for passionate, expressive worshipers.  Explain to them up front that not everyone who is currently involved is at this level (this will scare them) but if they are willing to step aside and work hard, you will do whatever you can to help them get there. Be ready to back up your vision because you're going to get plenty of "why" questions...especially if excellence has not been expected from the previous leadership.
  2. INFORMALLY RE-AUDITION EVERY EXISTING TEAM MEMBER: What I mean by that is to create an opportunity where you can assess each person's strengths and weaknesses without the auspiciousness of an "audition".  You can even create a "Night of Worship" just for the worship ministry volunteers where each person prepares a selection that demonstrates their ability and they perform it in front of their peers.
  3. MEET WITH EVERY TEAM MEMBER INDIVIDUALLY: This is the time to let them know where they stand.  Be specific and contrast their ability with the expectations you laid out at the initial meeting.  If they're not where they need to be in order to be a contribution to the team, offer them classes/lessons so they can improve and come back in six months to re-audition again.
Needless to say, some will be hurt.  Those who have served on the worship team for a long time have "followers" in the congregation who love seeing them up on stage.  Be ready for backlash from them, too.

What have you done to help transition as a new leader of an established ministry?