Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Worship Vocal Survival Tips

Over the last 30 years or so, the role of the vocal team in worship has changed dramatically.  We’ve moved from full choirs to ensembles or “praise teams” of 4-12 and now down to a worship leader with a single harmony vocalist.  Regardless of the size of these vocal teams, good vocal technique cannot be ignored in order to create vocal sounds that enhance the worship experience without being a distraction.

Unfortunately, there's not a plethora of information on the web to help worship vocalists and vocal teams. This seems quite odd since the voice has been and always will be the main instrument in translating what’s in our hearts to the audible message of our worship offering. Perhaps there’s an unspoken belief that vocal ability is just something you’re born with or without. Either you have it or you don’t and there’s little room for change within that area of ability.  For those who do decide to work on their voice, it can takes years of practice, sometimes having to break old habits in the process.  Also, if you don’t have a thorough knowledge of how the voice works, trying to help another vocalist can be very intimidating. As artists, we also understand that egos are fragile and we don’t want to offend someone by suggesting things they need to work on vocally.

Whatever the case for not teaching good vocal technique, all of us have had the experience of hearing bad worship vocalists lead worship with some foundational technical flaws that are causing them to have an unpleasant tone or intonation problems.  Believe it or not, these things CAN be fixed.

For the sake of continuity, we’ll call these team vocalists or background vocalists, BGV’s.  First off, the BGV must realize they are not the main focus or the center of attention.  They compliment or accompany the lead vocalist.  Most vocalists don’t realize that singing as a lead or solo vocalist and singing as a BGV requires a completely different style of singing. 

There are some foundational techniques that can be applied to all styles of singing, whether you’re singing folk, gospel, pop, rock, or whatever.   First we must understand that there is nothing more to singing than this simple idea:  “Sustained sighing on pitch”.  We all know how to sigh.  When we do, we’re creating free tone while air easily moves through our vocal chords.  As singers, we buy into the idea that singing involves more.  It doesn’t. There’s no need to manipulate any muscles in the neck or throat to make a good singing tone. If you can learn how to sigh and hold a pitch while doing it, you’ve learned how to sing.  There’s nothing more that needs to be added to that.

Before a vocalist even thinks about creating a sound with their voice, the MOST important thing they must do is listen.  Many vocalists tend to get so “into” the music (and sometimes themselves) that all they focus on is passionately expressing vocally what’s in their heart.  Meanwhile, the rest of team has has been left in the dust and they’re the one left standing alone.  As much as we think we should be heard, the goal is not for the BGV to “be heard”.  Ideally, if there is a harmony to the lead vocal it should be present but not distinguishable.  BGV’s create an affect of fullness without anyone knowing how or what it is.

Listening requires being aware of everything else that’s going on around you, including the instruments and other voices and responding vocally in a way that compliments and matches where the rest of the team is as it relates to pitch (being in tune with the rest of the team), vowels (the shape of the sound), dynamics (volume), tone (the timbre or quality of the vocal sound), timing (synchronized syllables, entrances and cut-offs), and texture (how many instruments/vocals are playing/singing at one time). I always tell our vocalists to go through this process in your head before making sound: “LISTEN. THINK. SING”.  It’s always in that order.  If you go out of order, you most likely won’t compliment what’s going on on the rest of the platform.

In addition to listening in order to match the pitches that are going on around you, the other thing that can increase pitch accuracy is proper use of the air.  If you don’t know how to breathe properly and then use that breath, the muscles in the neck and jaw will overcompensate by tightening up.   This tightness causes the pitch to waver or go flat (under pitch).  Watch this video to learn more about how to breath and use your breath as a vocalist.

For the worship team vocalist, vowel shape is the most important factor for a good blend within the team. Every vowel a vocalist sings should have a foundational “AH” shape to it.  The “AH” shape should never leave the back of the mouth while the “EE”, “EH”, “OH” and “OO” are formed with the lips, teeth and tongue. These vowels can get mutated when changing the foundational “AH” by lowering the soft palate or back part of the roof of the mouth.  The varieties of these mutations coming from the different vocalists on the team ruin the blend.  Work on matching vowel shape by keeping space between the teeth and keeping the “AH” shape in the back of the mouth on every vowel.  In addition, look to make sure the tongue is staying flat and relaxed on the bottom of the mouth with the tip of the tongue lightly touching the back of the bottom teeth.  If the tongue tightens and raises up in the back, the vocalist loses the open “AH” foundation.  Watch this video to learn more about how to relax the jaw and tongue.

Louder is not better. A good team vocalist matches their volume to the atmosphere of the song and balances it with the rest of the team.  This is driven both instrumentally and lyrically.  Just because there’s a great harmony part for a lyric such as “In this quiet place with You” doesn’t mean it should be blatted out for everyone to be amazed by it.  Likewise, if the band is rocking out, you don’t want to timidly sing “With all that I have I shout out Your glory”.  Dynamics are used to create interest.  After about 3 minutes of full-on singing, most ears shut off anyway.  

The quality of a singer’s voice can be described in many terms…nasally, edgy, breathy, full, thin, raspy, etc.  These descriptions refer to vocal tone.  Every single one of these tones have their appropriate place within a vocal team…as long as everyone on the team is utilizing the same tone and they are used on a style of song for which that tone is appropriate.  These various tones are created through resonance and placement of the sound. Typically a BGV wants to eliminate as much edge to their voice as possible depending on the style of the song.  The rounder and mellower the tone, the more it will blend. BGV’s should focus on an easier tone, especially when lower in their range where the chest voice tends to boom or get an edge to it, which can easily overpower the lead.

Modern worship has become known for the infamous “8th note delay”.  It is very important for BGV’s to make sure they match and practice the timing with everyone else on the team when it come to entrances, syllable timing and ending consonants, especially the letter “s”.  “S” is easily achieved on a vocal team if only one person actually sings the “s”.  If all members decide to make the “s” sound, they need to get off of it as quickly as possible by opening their mouth to “ah” as soon as the “s” is created.  This will eliminate the prolonged snake sound at the end of phrases.  If timing isn’t practiced, it will sound sloppy and the lyric will become indiscernible. 

Vibrato is that up and down oscillation you hear as some vocalists hold a pitch. There’s a lot of discussion on vibrato for vocalists.  Is it generated?  Does it happen naturally?  Regardless, when singing on a team, vibrato should be kept to a minimum or none at all.  If you have a vibrato, it CAN be controlled.  As we get older, the breathing muscles tend to weaken and the energized “quick spinning” quality in our voices tends to widen.  We must work to keep the breathing muscles toned so that our vibratos stay tighter and quicker.  When a straight tone is desired, the natural vibrato must be held in place without tightening the throat or cutting off the air. This is difficult to do.  Straight-toning has a tendency to go flat (under pitch) because we press down on the larynx in order to “hold” the vibrato.  As long as the air is used properly, straight-toning is very effective in creating a great blend.

Just because you can sing it doesn’t mean you have to.  There are many times in worship when dropping the microphone altogether is very effective in creating interesting texture within the music. In addition, designating specific times to sing unison and harmony can create interest in the texture as well.  Full-on harmony all the time can overwhelm the ear and it begins to tune out what is being heard.  Don’t be afraid to create moments of simplicity and reverence with unison singing then create momentum by breaking into harmony at an appropriate time in the music.

Our voice identifies who we are, but in the case of worship vocals, we want to develop our gift in a way that doesn't draw attention to our ability or lack of it, but to the One who gave us a voice to begin with.  The goal is for worshipers to look past our voice and identify Jesus in our lyric.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's a PA and Why Do You Need One?

It's 5 minutes before the service and THIS happens:
  • Your lead guitarist loses power to his amp.
  • In testing the clicks, you realize they've stopped coming through the IEM's.
  • One of the vocalists tells you the batteries died in her IEM pack.
  • The bass player's signal to the board is suddenly lost.
  • The pre-service music that is supposed to be playing has suddenly stopped for no apparent reason.
  • The drummer asks for an order of service because he can't remember which song is first.
  • Someone is running down from the baptistry because they need to know when baptisms are during the service.
  • The booth calls to the stage to say that the lyrics computer is frozen and there won't be any lyrics for the first song.
  • The Senior Pastor lets you know that the deacons will be making a presentation after the announcement video.
  • The keyboard player realizes the adapter for her headphones is missing.
  • The acoustic guitar is crackling every time he strums.
  • The rhythm guitarist has no clue that he is standing in the dark because the light for him is 5 feet to the left.

OK...maybe not all on one Sunday, but have any of these things ever happened to you?  As one who is responsible to help people focus on God, it becomes an impossible task to prepare spiritually and be concerned with every logistic element of the service.  These are things that simply should not be of concern to the worship leader.

That's why, for the last 8 years, I've tried to utilize a "PA".  PA stands for Program Assistant and it's one of the best choices I've ever made as a worship leader. My wife and I discovered this idea after attending the Saddleback Worship Conference years ago.  Saddleback was using a PA and when they explained what it was, it opened our eyes to a whole new world. No matter what the size of your ministry, a PA will end up being the most valuable person on your team.

What do you look for in a PA?
The PA is one of those detail-oriented people who can anticipate what could go wrong during a service.  They see things through the eyes of a guest and are able to think ahead and quickly develop a plan to remedy the problem before it happens or once it's already happened.  When things go wrong on stage or in the booth, things can get pretty heated so a PA should also be thick-skinned and have good communication skills with ability to stay calm under pressure.

What does the PA do?
For us, because it is impossible for the worship leader to sit down with the tech team in advance, the PA meets with the Worship Leader to get the "vision" for the service in order to develop a picture of what the worship leader wants the service to look and sound like.  The PA then becomes the liaison between the worship leader, the worship team, the technical team and any others involved in the service including ushers, communion servers, baptizers, presenters, etc.

After meeting with the worship leader, the PA's first responsibility is to come to rehearsal to take notes and make adjustments if need be to song lyrics and stage positioning.

Before the worship service, the PA becomes the "go to" person for any last minute additions or corrections to the service and they make sure everyone knows what's going on.  First, they go to the lighting tech to let them know where the worship leader has placed the team for lighting purposes. They also take a visual scan of the worship team to make them aware of any wardrobe adjustments that need to be made or inform them of a dangling headphone cable, etc.

The PA also serves the worship leader and worship team by helping them stay on-task and on-time. They do this by retrieving batteries, placing guitar/music stands and asking what they need such as an extra copy of the order of service.  The PA also makes sure the worship team has cleared off water bottles, purses, cups, instrument cases, etc. prior to the service.

At the beginning of the service, our PA serves as a sort of stage manager, helping direct traffic or moving props when need be, but NEVER seen or heard. Therefore, a communication headset tied into the booth is very beneficial.  During the service, they are constantly monitoring the surroundings for any audio or visual distractions, keeping an eye on the worship leader for any communication. Our PA usually stands toward the back of the worship center so to be close to the ushers, etc.  The PA then cues the band at the end of the service if they are not in the service.

What the PA is NOT!
The PA is not the director and does not make directional decisions for the service.  That is the job of the Pastor or Worship Leader.  That is why they are called an "assistant".  They are there to serve and support, not boss!

In the end, the incorporation of a PA has minimized the stress of Sunday morning for our worship leaders and allowed us to be more focused on God while leading worship.

Do you use a PA?  If not, how do you address these kinds of things on Sunday morning in order to stay focused on leading worship?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

5 Rules For Worship Team Vocalists

As worship leaders, most of us work with volunteer vocalists every week. While those of us in larger churches have the privilege of auditioning some pretty good singers, we also have the responsibility to equip and train those who have potential but need work in some areas. Those of us in smaller churches are forced to work with whoever shows an interest and the training part becomes even more necessary.  Unfortunately, the things listed below are not designed to help the "tone-deaf" person.  In those cases, it is good to have an alternative area of service to offer them or to recommend and ear-training course.

Most of the time, those who want to be part of the vocal team have a love for singing and a decent voice, but have never sung in a group before.  They don't understand that singing as a soloist and singing on a team requires a completely different set of rules.  Hopefully, the list below will help leaders and their vocalists begin to understand their role and development as a team singer.

You're not auditioning for American Idol!  I know that for many of us singers, our identity is wrapped up in our voices.  Unfortunately, this causes us to care way too much about what people think and we end up trying way too hard. After all, we don't want to make a fool out of ourselves.  LET. GO. OF. IT!  Nerves not only kill your tone but your ability to communicate as well! You end up either looking like a deer in the headlights or you're so over-the-top that it becomes inauthentic.  Mentally and emotionally lock into the lyric and express your heart.  If you do, the voice will follow.  I know this is going to deflate your ego, but as a vocalist, it's more about your ability to physically model worship than it is for people to hear your killer lead or incredible harmony.

Also, keep in mind that proper singing takes place from the collar bone DOWN.  Tone is not created by manipulating your voice box, tongue or jaw.  If the muscles in the neck and jaw are tight, not only will you limit your range and wear out your voice (possibly damaging it), but your resonance and vowels will be hindered.  Learn some exercises that help relax the neck and jaw and then begin to create tone without engaging any of these muscles.

The main reason people sing off pitch or have an unpleasant tone is due to shallow breathing. When they do, the breathing muscles never engage so the voice doesn't have enough air to work properly. In turn, it tightens up. There are plenty of Youtube videos to show you how to breath properly.  Mainly, breath deep and relax when you inhale without heaving the chest.  Expand the stomach and sides of your ribcage.  Then contract those muscles to push the air out while singing.  It's easy to forget to breath deeply in the emotion and excitement of leading worship but it's imperative. The more you practice, the less you have to think about it.

Louder is not better. There are two times when a vocalist has a tendency to over-sing.  One happens while learning the part and the other happens once the correct part is learned.  What happens during the learning process is that, without realizing it, the singer begins to "yell" their part so they can hear themselves and get the part into their head.  The problem with this is that it limits the singer's ability to hear what's going on around them. When they are screaming their part, they lose the context of how their part fits into the whole and could end up learning the wrong part altogether. The best worship team vocalist prioritizes listening over singing. You will learn a part much faster and correctly if you back off, cup your hand around your ear so you can hear yourself, and blend in with the rest of the group. It is also important while learning your part that you listen to the other singers in order to match their tone and vowel shape.  Be aware if your tone sounds more "nasally" than others in the group or if your "ah" sounds more like an "uh" compared to everyone else. Adjust accordingly.

Once you have your part learned, there's no need to "belt" it for the world to hear.  The idea of a worship team is that you function as a TEAM.  In a team, every part is equally important.  You may be totally "into" the worship, but a worship team singer must continually be conscious of all the other parts and how their part is blending and balancing with the rest of the team. There are many Scripture verses to reinforce this idea but my favorite is Philippians 2 which tells us to "esteem others better than ourselves".

Also, if you learn harmony by ear, it is egotistical to think that just because you can only find one harmony that everyone else on the team has to work around your part.  The next time you're in your car by yourself listening to music, force yourself to find and sing alternative harmonies with the songs.  If you take time to practice this, you will get batter at it.  It also demonstrates a servant spirit while helping you improve as a musician who listens and adapts.  Eventually your ear will develop to hear more than one part and it will make the other singers on the team look forward to singing with you rather than dreading it.

Too many inexperienced vocalists sing one-dimensionally. They have one volume and one tone.  The voice can do so much more and vocalists need to explore and practice these capabilities of their voice.  As an expression of the heart, worship music inherently possesses the entire gamut of dynamics and tone. From bold declaration to intimate prayer, vocalists need to adjust their volume and technique to create these atmospheres for the worshiper.  For vocalists who have a bigger, heavier voice, work on lightening up, moving the tone more forward, and even adding a little breath to your tone.  For those who have a light, thin voice, work on ways to create a more full resonant sound; then use these tones appropriately.  Always be aware of the ambience of a song.  Most of the time, this is created through the instrumentation.  I can't tell you how many times I've been on a team where a worship team vocalist was in their own world and when the band backed off they were blaring their part for the world to hear. Awkward!

Part of dynamics is also learning how to use a microphone.  Once you do, the sound guy will love you! Good microphone technique requires a knowledge of awareness of your own voice.  You know the sweet spot in your voice.  You know "that note" where it just rings.  Those are the places you need to pull the mic away.  You also know those low spots where your voice loses intensity.  As mentioned before, don't over-sing.  Keep it tender and bring the  microphone in closer to your mouth.

What? I'm the alto harmony on the worship team! What do you mean I'm not supposed to sing?

Just because you can, doesn't mean you need to. Worship comes from the heart.  The voice doesn't always have to engage for the heart to worship. There are many times during worship when I have asked our vocalists to drop the mic and simply internalize or mouth the lyrics being sung by someone else.

In any music, variety of texture is key to the music being engaging and worth listening to. I love a good choir, but after about an hour, my ears are full of choral sound.  The congregation is the same way when it comes to the worship team.  If they hear full harmony singing for 30 minutes, they begin to shut it off.  Let texture rise and fall throughout your songs. Leaders, practice this with your teams. For example, when the first verse starts, encourage them to keep their mics down and only mouth the words, then join with the melody only on the second verse; don't add any harmony until the second chorus. During the breakdown go back to melody or drop your mic altogether. Singers, once you've worked through the texture map, don't forget it before the worship service!  Remember, it's not about your ability to awe the audience with four-part harmony, but to allow them to engage in worship.

Also, watch the leader.  If they drop their microphone, it's probably a cue for you to do the same.  As a worship leader, I drop my mic from time to time because it causes the congregation to hear themselves. When they do, it removes the "performance" aspect of worship and encourages them to lift up their song of praise even louder.  As a vocalist, if you fail to drop your mic after the leader does, the congregation ends up worshiping to your blaring tenor part all by itself.  Not ideal.

I'd love to hear other things you've done as a singer or leader to help the vocalists on your team function better as a team.

Monday, August 4, 2014

5 Ways To Get Your Church To Sing

We all know that the purpose of the worship leader is to facilitate opportunities for people to respond to God's presence with all of their being.  In modern worship settings, the creative use of quality music, engaging video and eye-catching stage design are woven together with the purpose of helping draw the congregation to a place of actively responding to God's presence, typically in the form of singing.

While these auditory and visual elements are designed to create an environment conducive to worship, they also have a tendency to draw attention to themselves and cause people to get emotionally caught up in the art form while completely missing the deeper responses of thanksgiving, praise, and surrender to God.

More and more worship leaders are finding themselves challenged with the dilemma of a congregation who sings less and less. In fact, many worship teams find themselves declaring with abandon "The grave could not contain the power of His name! Death You overcame once and for all!" while a sea of faces stands and stares back at them.  But when people aren't singing, it's not necessarily because they're in deep contemplation; it's because they're in a state of over-stimulation.  So what can we, as worship leaders, do to help our congregations sing more and sing from their hearts?

Here are 5 things that I've discovered can encourage more singing in the congregation:

1. Make sure that the melody lines of the songs you choose don't go above D or E-flat.  If you have a song where the melody line goes higher than that, lower to the key. I find that many worship leaders are afraid to change the key of a song because the band usually learns from the original recording and can't play it any other way. They're also afraid that if they lower the key, it will lose impact because it's not in the lead vocalist's "sweet spot". I would encourage worship leaders to stretch themselves and their teams to trying other keys. A good worship leader realizes that it's more important for the key to be conducive for the average singer in the congregation than it is to be in a better range for the worship leader or easier for the band to play.

2. Spread out how often you introduce new songs.  Usually, by the time you're ready to move on to the next new song, the congregation has just begun to catch on the one you introduced two weeks ago. In my opinion, one new song per month is about all a congregation can handle if you really want them to sing out. When it comes to singing, familiarity breeds confidence.  The congregation may love that new song you taught them but they're not going to sing it out until they've heard it at least four times.  As worship leaders are bombarded with new worship music coming out every week, this forces us to be very selective in the new songs we introduce...but that's a whole other post.

3. Less sound from the stage is not a bad thing.  Modern worship tends to be volume driven because we want people to "feel" the music.  For those who are "into" the worship, we believe that more volume breaks down inhibitions and allows people to "let go" because they can't hear themselves. Unfortunately, this reasoning isn't true for everyone.  Worshipers who aren't at that place yet often respond to loud volume and thick textures with, 'Sounds great! They got this. I don't need to add anything.' Try doing an acoustic set from time to time where the vocals and instrumentation are thinner.  One thing we do that I've had to train our vocalists on is to watch and follow the lead vocalist.  If they drop their mic during a breakdown or when we're repeating or chorus or bridge, they drop theirs, too.  When the vocals drop out, it encourages the congregation to feel as though their song is important and being heard.  When they hear others next to them singing, they're more likely to join in.

4. Verbally express at the beginning of the service what the next 20 minutes of corporate worship is all about.  Explain that it's not a concert...they are not the audience...the band and singers are not the performers.  Explain that we sing to God as our audience because we want Him to hear our hearts of adoration, praise and thanksgiving for who He is and all that He's done.  Explain that the band is there to help them sing their song of praise.  Encourage the response you're looking for by giving the congregation permission to sing out, raise hands, jump and clap as the Holy Spirit leads. Beginning with a Scripture verse describing one or more of these expressions of worship can be very effective.

5. Add a worship choir.  The choir is not a dead form in modern worship.  The role of the choir has changed, but just because it's been around a long time doesn't mean it should be thrown out with the hymns.  A worship choir doesn't have to sound professional or have trained vocalists who know how to read music.  They don't even require a ton of rehearsal.  Typically, it's simply a group of people (who aren't tone-deaf) and are uninhibited when offering their song of praise.  Their visual and audible presence on stage offer a sense of a "mini congregation" and model corporate worship for the those not on the stage.  As those in the congregation see the worship choir worshiping, it encourages them to sing along.

What have you done to encourage your congregation to sing more?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Makes A Good Worship Team Member?

I remember early on in my journey as a worship leader that I never wanted to expect too much from my team musically or spiritually because I thought if I pushed them too hard, they would quit.  I wanted it to be fun.  I realized fairly quickly that my fear was not only unfounded but exposed in me a serious lack of confidence and knowledge as a leader.  The quality of our worship and our team unity suffered, not to mention that we couldn't draw any new talent.  No one wanted to be a part of a mediocre, spiritually disengaged worship team who was a constant distraction during worship.

This topic of team expectations came up in our worship leader network gathering again last week.  Many leaders expressed an interest in training for their teams which outline what they look for in a good worship team member.  Just like me with my kids, it seems that they've shared their expectations with their team already but realize that they may get better results if their team members hear it coming from someone else.

So, here are some things I expect from our team that lets them know they're being good team members. Perhaps they are the same things you've asked of yours.  If so, you're more than welcome to share these with your worship team and let them know you're not the only one and that other worship leaders look for these same qualities in their worship team members.

Here's what's expected of you as a good worship team member:

  1. You esteem others better than yourself and ask what you can work on to better serve the team. This means you never ask to skip a rehearsal because "you'll have it down for Sunday". Rehearsal attendance isn't always about you.
  2. You don't approach your participation as a way fulfill a musical "need for expression" in your life like it's a hobby that you do on the side.  You're sold out to Jesus and your musical worship is an overflow of your daily time with Him.
  3. You take advantage of opportunities to grow and develop with other team members. If there is training or a team night offered to help you improve as a worship leader, you make every effort to be there. This includes being punctual and present for team prayer.
  4. Your social network habits reflect that you're seeking after God, not just selfies, social justices, cute animals, game apps, hip coffeehouses, exercise/eating habits, and funny videos.
  5. Your freedom and accuracy on stage shows that you've prepared musically and spiritually ahead of time.
  6. You stay in the worship center when you're not on stage and make every effort to meet new people in the lobby rather than huddling in the green room with your worship team peeps.
What expectations do you have for your worship team?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


In the past two months, I've heard of three different situations where worship leaders have had team members reveal to them they are gay. Since this has happened to me previously on two different occasions, I thought it might be beneficial to share my experience and mistakes I've made along the way in dealing with these situations.

In the hopes that you'll keep reading to the end, rather than tell you up front my position on homosexuality for a Christian, I'll let you read my experiences. You'll be able to figure it out.


I realized there was an openly gay 17-year-old young man on our worship team only two weeks after I had started a new position as worship pastor.  I guess you could call it my "initiation". I received an email from a worship team member asking me to look at the young man's Facebook page.  This team member did not ask me to kick the young man off the team; they just wanted me to be aware and seek God on how to deal with it, if necessary.

Sure enough...the profile picture was of this young man and his partner with whom he was, according to his status, "in a relationship".  My first response was that of compassion.  My second response was shear terror.  I didn't want to be that bigoted, intolerant, homophobic "church" person who singled out sins and judged people, so I messaged him to let him know that I had seen his relationship status and to find out if we could sit down over a cup of coffee and talk about it.  Honestly, I just wanted to let him know he was loved and find out how he was dealing with his same-sex attraction as a Christian.  Surprisingly, he was very open to the idea of meeting.  We set a time and I began to pray about what God would have us talk about.

Unfortunately, that the was the last conversation I ever had with him.  I wasn't prepared for what would happen that evening; I got a call from his dad (his parents attended church "off and on").  Obviously a loving and caring father, he wanted to protect his son from judgmental people like me. This is one thing I really respected about him.  He began to share with me the background of how long they'd known their son was gay and that it didn't change their love for him.  I affirmed this!  He then went on to ask me the dreaded question I wasn't prepared to answer..."What is your position on being gay and will you allow him to continue to serve on the worship team?"  Even now, I wish I could take back my response.  Feeling pinned against a wall,  I began to tell him what our church believed the Bible had to say about homosexuality and that while his son would always be welcome at the church, I could not allow someone in an openly gay relationship to serve as a leader on the worship team.

I didn't get another word in the entire conversation. He became livid and I realized I had made a huge mistake.  He had obviously done his research and came back at me with, "Don't you think God makes people that way?" He began to bring up all the verses about Noah, David and Jonathan, Paul's "opinion", how the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is misinterpreted, God's view of infidelity and picking out certain sins, judgmental Christians, planks and specks, , etc.  He  let me know that they would never come back to our church again and hung up angry, citing that I had taken away his son's ability to use his gift to worship God.  Honestly, it felt like the young man's father was dealing with issues of his own.  I was dumbfounded and frustrated at the same time.  It made me realize how sly Satan's schemes are.  He uses even our best intentions to place a barrier between lies and truth.

Immediately, I called my pastor to let him know what had just taken place. I told him exactly what was said and how it was said.  He was so kind! He affirmed me to let me know I had done the right thing (even though, now, we both know it could have been handled better).  Then he called the young man's father himself to talk about it.  Later that evening my pastor called me back to let me know that the father expressed the same things to him and that they would be leaving the church.  My heart was broken and I was exhausted!

If I had to do it over again, I would have responded to the young man's dad with, "Every situation is different and I can't be the judge or make a decision without getting to know him."  At least then, I may have had the opportunity to meet with him. There were so many things I wanted to say to him.  I know for sure that the first thing wouldn't have been "This is what my church believes...".   I honestly don't know how it would have turned out.  I do know that if he had told me he had accepted who he was as a homosexual and wanted to continue to act on his same-sex desires, I would have handled it like all other known sins on our team and in the church.  I would have asked him to take a break from leading worship for a while so we could provide some spiritual guidance.

Needless to say, word got out about what went down. The responses of church members were all over the place.  Some showed incredible support.  Others, depending on who they got the story from, thought I was a jerk for kicking him out of the church.  I wasn't prepared to be misquoted. God had to teach me how to respond without being defensive.  Once people heard exactly how the situation was handled, they were saddened but understood.  I was grateful for my pastor's support through the whole matter.


A 23-year-old man who had been attending our church emailed me to let me know he was interested in auditioning for the worship team as a vocalist.  With our teams having more female singers than male, I was excited to have a male vocalist who wanted to join the team.  I asked him to give me a little background about himself along with answers to my usual questions..."Which service do you attend?"..."How long have you been going to the church?"..."Have you put your faith in Jesus?"  He shared with me that he had put his faith in Jesus a long time ago and that his father was a pastor but he wasn't comfortable at his dad's church.  He explained that he had served on a couple of worship teams before and understood the responsibility that comes with it.  Then came the kicker: "I am currently a homosexual."

The thing that opened the door for discussion was how he prefaced his revelation with "I am not without issues, however." It indicated to me that he saw his identity as a child of God, not in his sexual orientation.  This brought hope!

This was my response:
Hey _____,
I think it's really cool that you feel comfortable enough to be honest and transparent with me about your struggles.  We need more of that in the church.
You're right, we ALL have different issues and no issue is worse than another....
I went on to explain how I struggle with the sins of pride and gluttony. Then I continued:
...From what I can tell, you view your attraction to the same sex as a "struggle" that you're working through.  If so, that's right where God wants you.  It may be uncomfortable, but be assured that He's completing His work in you.  I wish all Christians could come to this place in their walk with God.  Unfortunately, what I've seen is that the struggle with same-sex attraction becomes too great for most and it's easier to accept it as "who they are" instead of as a result of our fallen nature that has been given to a child of the King for a specific purpose.  Instead, they blame God. They don't like the feelings of guilt, so they quench the Holy Spirit and flesh out their sinful desires instead of realizing God's perfect design and unconditional love.  
I then went on to ask him specifics about how he was dealing with his same-sex attraction and offered to answer any questions and let him know I looked forward to getting to know him as a friend, artist and worship leader.

His response was almost immediate:
First of all, thank you for your understanding.  Second, lately I've been realizing what this struggle is about.  Honestly, through all my desires for a family, a wife, and being a pastor like my father have never left me.  I have not been giving into my homosexual desires as much.  Though, I'm not without fault.  I've slipped.  But every time I do, I stop and think and pray.  I'm not perfect, but I'm trying.  I find sometimes that too much time alone keeps me separated and in doubt.  I want to be closer to people who can encourage me and help me if I fall, ya know.  Thanks!
While some would have been disappointed by his "slips" and used that as a reason to keep him from being on the team, I WAS ELATED!  In his own way, he was expressing a desire to surrender to God and that's all I was looking for, no matter what his sin or how often he was messing up.  I determined to be part of the group who would encourage and help him on his journey!  That's why, after his audition, I asked him to become part of the worship team.

So... have I had homosexual Christians on my worship teams?  YES! ...and I'm so glad I have!  I've also had adulterers, liars, and envious thieves, but it's because they've all come to the place where they've realized their choices have broken the heart of God and they've experienced His grace and forgiveness.....over and over and over and over again. And I've had the opportunity to see God's grace produce life-change right in front of my eyes. So cool!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Every effective worship leader works on ways to help their band members become better players, worshipers, and team players.  Over the years, I've seen and offered this investment many different ways in the form of conferences, workshops, intensives, labs, etc.  We spend time learning and working through musical techniques while emphasizing spiritual preparation with the hopes that, in the end, it will help our music be a beautiful offering.

There is one area, however, that I believe we tend to overlook when helping our band members achieve their fullest potential as worship leaders:  we must teach them to INGEST AND EXPRESS THE LYRICS OF THE SONG THROUGH THEIR PLAYING.  Too often our instrumentalists fall into one of three categories: 1) They get so focused on the mechanical aspect of the music that their heart disconnects from the story they are telling or the message they are offering. They believe that the lyrics are only pertinent to the vocalists.  2) They become so familiar with a song that their playing becomes predictable and one-dimensional.  Sure, they're singing along, but the lyrics have lost their potency in their heart and is reflected in their playing. 3) They are waiting on the "stronger" band members to lead the way.  Have you ever had that moment when the band is supposed to build and nothing happens?  Encouraging each band member to know where the lyrics are taking them will force them to take ownership for their own playing and minimize those dreaded drop-outs or extra rhythm at the ends of phrases.

As worship leaders, we need to continue to ask our band questions like, "Why do we crescendo there?"..."Why are the bass and drums moving into a 16th note pattern right there?"..."Why does the rhythm stop at that point?"  The answers to these questions must be more than a simple, "Because that's the way recording does it."..."Because we're going into the chorus."..."Because we want the vocals to shine."

The lyrics are the key to inspirational playing! They are not something that only the vocalists need to concern themselves with. The way the band plays should reflect the lyrics being expressed.  Music is designed to enhance our poems, stories, and offerings.  It cannot be disconnected as an entity in itself.  Even during instrumental solos, the overall theme of the song should inspire the solo.

Let me give an example: Last weekend we use the song "Never Once" by Matt Redman during our worship gathering.  We'd led this song several times.  I wouldn't say it was super familiar, but it wasn't brand new, either.  I love this song because it reflects on God's faithfulness through the struggles of life. The chorus is a realization that through all we've been through, God has been there.  Musically, it's a point of emphatic declaration compared to the verses.  We'll, during rehearsal, when the band got to the chorus, they played it exactly like they were playing the verses.  There was no dynamic difference at all.  It was a great opportunity for me to share this idea of the lyrics driving how we play.  I talked through the lyrics with them to remind them of the where we were leading the congregation and did it again...a completely different energy resulted.  The lyrics came to life!

What are some ways you help your band members achieve the next level in their playing?