Worship can be a polarizing word—loud, exciting music to some, quiet hymns to others. The majority of people, I’ve come to find, like their church music to land somewhere in the middle. Make it interesting, make it accessible, but most of all make it meaningful. That’s a lot harder than it sounds, and it’s the burden that those of us who do this weekly task regularly bear. Worship leaders who have been thrust onto the stage without any direction or parameters tend to default toward flash and awe, which eventually leads to a hollow experience.
In shaping the vision for our worship services here at Church On The Move, we first have to start with shaping the vision of our worship leaders. One of our core values as a church is: “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.” By holding to the four following CORE disciplines we’ve successfully shaped musicians into effective worship leaders.
It’s amazing what people will tweet/Instagram/Facebook about, but never openly talk about when they’re at church. So to not be aware of what your worship leaders are posting online is foolish. Give them parameters on what’s acceptable to share online and do in public. Call them in if you see something even remotely questionable. For example, I want to know who my unmarried leaders are dating (I was young and single once).
Also, I expect them to have a deeper commitment to their church than to their side projects. I understand that many worship leaders desire to make an album of their own material or to go out and do concerts here and there. I think it’s healthy to explore musical directions and to make yourself better at what you do, and several of us here do just that. But the priority has to be the church, not promoting your newest song.
I want our worship leaders to care about every aspect of the worship service, not just their individual performance. I try to build ownership in them by letting them feel the weight of the weekend. I can do this in several ways:
- Continually pitching the vision of why we do what we do
- Holding them accountable for their preparation and performance
- Letting them produce a song (or the entire service)
- Allowing them to privately and tactfully critique the performance of others on the stage
- Getting them to feel the disappointment of any part of the service that wasn’t awesome (I can tell that I have a good worship leader on my hands when they take the heat for a flop as quickly as they’ll take the congratulations for a job well done.)
The best way to get good at anything is to do it over and over and over, and then do it again. To expect someone to just walk in the door, pick up a microphone, and knock it out of the park is foolishness. That’s one reason our rehearsals can run for 4 hours or more every week. Many times, a vocalist will be required to sing a song through a minimum of 12 times on stage before there are ever any people in the room. Someone who we’re looking at as a future worship leader may be asked to be a part of rehearsals for months before they ever have a chance to take the stage during a live service. Hearing them and watching their body language for a period of time will tell us what they need to work on and how we can help.
Those that want to serve with us must understand that evaluation is a valuable part of our process. Those that lead a song are subject to this more than anyone. Our stage personnel are made aware of our culture when they make it through the audition process and I give them the “No Divas” speech—that this is not their stage, the place where they can shine and make a name for themselves. We are deliberate about the message we deliver as worship leaders, and the best way to stay on point each week is with an honest conversation about what we did right and what we did wrong. Nothing sharpens you more than constructive criticism. Want to be an integral part of our team? Learn to accept evaluation. Even more, learn to crave it.
At the end of the day, it’s important not only to hold on to these disciplines, but also to understand that worship is just part of the picture. Weekly prayer, devotion time, and creative wandering are essential to personal and team growth. If the individuals are strong, the team is strong. The worship is then simply a byproduct of that strength.