Make this your #1 goal at every praise team rehearsal

Make this your #1 goal at every praise team rehearsal

When we think about rehearsals and why we have them, chances are your mind goes straight to the obvious reasons. We have them to learn new material. But there’s a much deeper, more important reason to have regular rehearsals, even when you’re not necessarily learning new material. Each time you have a rehearsal all of your efforts should be directed towards one very important goal.  And that is to learn that material like the back of your hand.

To illustrate my point let me take you back to when you first learned to drive a car. Remember how complicated it seemed back then? What was it, something like a 7-step procedure you had to memorize just to pull away from the curb? There were so many little details. So much to remember. It felt like you had to remember and pay attention to a hundred different things. Today though, driving has become second nature. We still do all those steps but now it’s so automatic-so programmed into us that we do them without having to think about it really. Nowadays you can be engaged in deep thought, spiritual meditation, prayer, even worship- all while safely driving your car. All because driving your car is something you don’t have to think about any more.

In a similar way, the goal of every rehearsal should be to learn and perfect the material so well that you can deliver it with that same kind of assurance. This includes every aspect of the music ministry, from the harmony to the actual song format to the music. That may sound like overkill until you  begin to really understand how powerful that is to your ministry.

You see, anything that you’re unsure about takes your mind and spirit away from truly praising and worshiping God in song. For example, let’s say during rehearsal there was a part of the song that your group had a lot of trouble with. Patience was running thin so you decided to go with “close enough” rather than continuing to hammer away at it until everybody got it down.

Sunday morning comes, and the song is going forth. The Holy Spirit is moving and everyone is praising and worshiping God. Hands are raised, eyes closed and everyone is fully enveloped in the power of the song. But then the song starts to approach that one part everyone had trouble with. Everyone knows it’s coming and nobody’s really sure what their part is- or what’s supposed to happen. People get nervous and start scrambling to remember. Hands come down and eyes open as group members start searching for clues from each other, the director, band-members- anybody. But by then it’s too late and it’s time to execute. The group stumbles through the section ok but it’s not right and it’s noticeable. The song goes on and everyone finishes ok, but the spirit isn’t the same now.

In this example just one part of the song wasn’t quite nailed down. But there are times when groups or choirs stumble through entire selections this way. It may not even be that there is any noticeable mistake made in the song. Sometimes it’s just plain old uncertainty; the kind that comes from quickly going over a song once or twice and then Singing it the next Sunday.

Uncertainty can rob your ministry of it’s anointing and power. It’s very hard to really connect and minister spiritually when you’re not really sure the whole time what your part is, or what happens next in the song. So, as irritating as those repetitions are at rehearsal, it’s critically important to do them. Pushing past frustration is a tough thing to do, but the rewards far outweigh the frustration.

To understand the power of perfecting a song until there is no uncertainty, you need look no further than one of those old songs you’ve been singing for years. Just like driving, your choir, praise team or group has this song down so good you can sing it in your sleep. And every time you sing it God comes in and rains His spirit down over the congregation.

Why is that? Your first thought may be simply because it’s a great song with a powerful message. And you’d be correct. But it’s deeper than that. It’s because everyone knows every part of the song. And they know it so well that they don’t have to think about their part, or what’s coming next, or who does what at what time, or what the words are. So when the song goes forth there’s nothing to distract anyone or take their minds off worshiping and praising God in song. That’s a very, very powerful thing.

When you learn a song so well that you don’t have any doubts or any guessing about any part of it, you minister from a very pure place. God is then able to minister through you to His people because your entire group is with one accord.

Need more articles like this one for your praise/worship team? Get this one and 12 more like it in my new e-book Praise Team 101.

Enthusiasm in ministry; where do you get yours?

Enthusiasm in ministry; where do you get yours?

This may very well be one of the shortest articles you’ve seen from me. And I’m going to end it with a very powerful question. But first, let me ask you something. Who or what gets you excited when you’re singing in the choir or on the praise team? Maybe you’re just a member of the congregation who finds that it’s hard for you to really get going spiritually without that extra push from (insert your favorite motivator/worship leader/singer(s) here).

I’ve worn about every hat in my church’s music ministry over the last 30 years of serving. I’ve been a tenor in the tenor section, the drummer for a short time, the choir director. Now I’m on keyboards. Through all of those years though, I’ve almost always held the position of voice instructor. As such I’ve conducted hundreds of rehearsals and taught hundreds of songs. For many years I taught them then directed them.

Music ministry has always been my passion. My calling. My ministry and my offering to the God I serve. As such, I have a tendency to approach everything I do in music ministry with a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and excitement. I’m “animated”, lol. I often joke with the other band members that if you were to watch me play keyboards with no sound you’d think I was waaay better than I actually am, the way I bounce around over there. I approach directing the same way, whether I actually want to direct or not- and I usually don’t (there’s another message for another blog right there). Naturally when I’m in front of people they respond favorably to that. When someone is excited about what they do, it kinda makes you excited too.

Some people though, have trouble getting excited any other way other than “catching it” from someone else. Over the years as I participated in various conversations about one person’s style or ministry or level of enthusiasm vs. another.  Something I hear people say quite often is some variation of the following:

It’s hard for me to get excited or motivated unless the _______ is excited. When they’re on fire that pulls it out of me. That’s why I love it when Bro. Joe_____________ (insert your favorite thing you love to see Bro. Joe do; whether it’s directing, playing an instrument, singing).  Bro. Joe is always so energetic, and he really makes me want to give more”.

Ever heard that one or something like it? Ever said it? Sure, most of us have. This is a very common thing heard among choirs in reference to the choir director. But it could be any group or activity that has a leader of some sort who just always seems to bring it out of you and take you to that next level spiritually.

So here’s the question I’d like you to think about today as you contemplate your own music ministry, your own walk, your own level of excitement about what you do. If  it’s true that you get your motivation, your desire, your excitement and your enthusiasm from Bro. Joe, and you find it hard to get excited about what you’re doing if he’s not approaching his own ministry with enthusiasm and energy, then…….

Where does Bro. Joe get his from?  In other words, what or who is is motivating, boosting and exciting the person that you’re getting yours from?

When you can honestly answer that you will never have to depend on Bro. Joe or anyone else for yours again.

Ephesians 6: 7-8

Complements, kudos and praise; how the bible teaches us to handle them

If you’re a regular reader you know how adamant I am about the importance of practicing, rehearsing and perfecting your music ministry until it’s the best it can be. In my blog Talent Vs. Skill Vs. Anointing; does God really care? I made a pretty compelling case using several scriptures that yes, God cares very much what music ministry sounds like.  But after doing the work, studying and improving their craft, practicing endless hours to achieve a high level of skill in ministry, many anointed singers and musicians find themselves struggling with the outpouring of praise and adoration from well-meaning people.

Indeed, once a certain level of proficiency in music ministry is attained, it is entirely possible for not only for the musician/singer, but the ones giving the praises to become a little confused about who is being praised. People mean well when they shower complements upon musicians, of course. Many of them even use all the right words when they’re giving you kudos. Words like anointed are often used by people who are complementing someone’s singing or playing. But whether they realize it or not, most people have a tendency to praise the person more than they are praising the God that is working through the person.

Even the best of us can get caught up in all the praise when it’s always coming at you. We are, after all, human. But the good news is God always gives us a way of escape when we go to His word. In scripture you can find several instances where the bible teaches and gives examples of the importance of deflecting such praises away from ourselves toward God, the source of all good things.

The book of Daniel chapter 2 told the story about  Nebuchadnezzar, who had been troubled with dreams he could not interpret. After hearing news that Daniel had the gift to interpret dreams, the king sent for him. When the king asked Daniel in vs.26 if he could indeed interpret his dream for him, Daniel could have easily just said “Yes, I can interpret your dream”. But look at his answer in vs.26-28:

27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

Verse 28 is so powerful to me. Daniel basically said “no, I can’t but God can through me”. It’s an amazing example of how scripture teaches us of the importance of deflecting praise away from ourselves and back to God. Jesus Himself during his time on earth constantly deflected praise away from Himself and back to God ( Luke 18:19 is just one example). Paul can also be found deflecting praise away from himself, as well as John the Baptist.

Still though, we need not be rude or condescending when people are saying good things about us. If someone complements your playing, directing, singing or any other aspect of your ministry, to respond with kindness and humility is just the Christian thing to do. But it is also very important to take one more step beyond “thank you” and deflect that praise to God. I have a friend who is an amazing vocalist, and just a beautiful person. But complement her all you want and you’ll never get her to accept any of the credit. “Thank you, it’s nothing but God.” or “to God be the Glory”, or “it’s not me at all, it’s all God” are all things she says whenever someone praises her singing.

That’s really what the bible is teaching us. One thing that makes music ministry such an attractive target for the devil is it’s propensity for vanity. It’s very easy to get puffed up and start “believing the hype”, as it were. After all, you did the work! You fasted, prayed, worked, toiled, and rehearsed. You deserve some praise, right? Sorry, but no. And if you think so, that should be your first clue that you’ve done it all for the wrong reasons. The bible warns very strongly against doing anything- whether  it be praying, fasting, giving or anything else- strictly for the praises of, or to be seen by men (Matt 6;1, 6;5, 6;16).

So while it is important to perfect your ministry, the ONLY reason to do it is so that God gets the glory from it. So when people start lavishing the complements and praises on you, make sure that you deflect those praises away from yourself. Make it a point to always tell people that it’s not you, but God working through you. Failing to give God the credit and the glory for His mighty gifts can often come with terrible consequences,  as Herod found out in Acts 12:22 .

So the word of the day concerning the praises of men on your music ministry is..DEFLECT!

3 tips for choosing great praise team songs

Lemmie Battles & Virginia Mass choirWith more and more church music ministries moving toward using praise teams now than ever before, many people are finding choosing the right songs rather challenging. This is especially true in Gospel Music where praise teams are still relatively new in compared to churches where the predominant style of music is Contemporary Christian music.

In African-American churches where choirs and congregational singing have been the main staples for so many years, newly formed praise teams can find themselves struggling to make the transition to singing a style of music that is quite different. For many music directors the line is between what constitutes a good praise team song vs a good choir song is still rather blurry at times.

I’ve been asked a couple of times myself – most recently on my Fan Page – about how to choose good praise team songs. So in today’s blog I thought I’d offer 3 simple guidelines anyone can use to help identify songs that would be great for the praise team.

 

1. The lyrics should focus on Praising and/or Worshiping God

Here’s the first place most churches who have used only a Gospel choir first get confused. Quite often you’ll hear a great song and you simply can’t decide whether to give it to the choir or the praise team. The simple rule for praise and worship songs is that they’re always about praising and/or worshiping God. For example, the average choir song could be about almost any aspect of the believer’s daily walk. Choir songs often talk about faith, coming through trials, waiting on God, believing and standing on His promises, etc.

Praise and worship songs are different in that they usually speak almost exclusively about the attributes of God, His goodness, power, amazing love and forgiveness. The distinction between “Praise” and “Worship” is often dictated by the tempo- praise songs usually being more up-tempo while worship songs are slower and focused more intently on the loving relationship between us and God.

It’s important to note though, that just because a song is great for a praise team doesn’t mean a choir can’t do it. Hezekiah Walker and Love Fellowship Choir’s “You’re All I Need” is a great example of a gospel choir doing a song that has all the elements of a great praise team song.

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2. The song structure should be relatively simple and repetitive

The goal of praise and worship songs is to create an atmosphere that encourages true worship and communion with God. As such the songs you choose should be easy to follow and catch on to for the audience. This encourages participation and minimizes distractions that more complicated songs can somtimes cause. Often the most powerful praise and worship songs are songs that just repeat 2 or 3 simple refrains, only changing a word or 2 from line to line. These kinds of songs really help the audience focus on praising and worshiping God by focusing their minds and hearts on Him.

Simplicity t is also a very important thing to consider because praise teams don’t normally have a director standing in front of them to lead them though the different sections of the song. Choosing simple, repetitive songs makes it easy for the praise team members to follow simple vocal or musical cues to move from one point to the next, so that they too can focus on God without distraction.

3.  The song should fit your team’s skill level and vocal range

One big adjustment you’ll need to get used to when moving from the choir to the praise team is that the songs require a higher level of skill. Praise team songs, while they are often more simple in format, can often be more demanding in harmony and range. The most important thing to focus on when choosing songs for your praise team is not choosing the hottest song out, or choosing the one the team likes. The most important thing is choosing the song that will be the most effective tool for helping create that atmosphere of praise and worship.

As such it’s important to choose songs your team can do well. This does take some honesty, and quite often may lead to your team having to pass on a song they really wanted to do. But in order for a praise team to really be effective they must perform at a higher level of skill. Much moreso than in the choir where there are large numbers, every voice on a praise team is important. Every person has a microphone, so vocal ability, tone, pitch and harmony are all much less forgiving than in the choir stand.

A newly formed praise team may take a while to develop to that higher standard of excellence. In the meantime it’s important to do songs that are easier to perfect. The good thing is that there are many songs like that in Praise and Worship music. Songs with easy, straight-forward harmony and vocal ranges that aren’t challenging for most people.

In summary, choosing the right songs for your praise team doesn’t have to be hard at all, especially with so much praise and worship music available now. This simple guideline along with prayer and unity will help your praise team choose the best songs for you and your congregation.

 

 

Tricked into worship? The great “manipulation” debate

The godfather like stencil reading The ChurchThis is something that has been on my radar ever since I came across a rather spirited (no pun intended) conversation about it in a worship leaders group on Linked In. To be honest I’ve avoided writing about the subject because I really couldn’t wrap my mind around the whole notion. I’m speaking of the rather “secret” debate going on among certain social circles, networks and blogs that suggests that praise and worship music “manipulates” audiences by creating atmospheres that encourage a strong emotional response.

I confess, I was absolutely blown away the first time I read about this. I had no idea. There are so many angles, philosophies and positions on this subject that I could write endlessly and aimlessly in circles if I tried to touch on them all. But some of the most jaw-dropping things I came across as I started doing a little more research on the subject were things like the following;

1. Many people apparently believe that musicians deliberately choose certain chord changes and progressions specifically to manipulate the audience emotionally. Other musical changes like swells in volume at certain points are seen by some to be designed to encourage a certain emotional response that is “artificial” and not real worship.

2. Worship music as a whole is being seen as “emotionally manipulative” by a growing number of people.

Let me say right off the bat that there are some valid concerns that all of us who work in music ministry should take note of. We must at all times be sure that it is God we are worshiping and NOT the music. We must be able to separate a real worship experience where you are having an encounter with the presence of God’s holy spirit, vs. something that is not much more than an “emotional high”. So I do get the concern that fuels this debate.

But the problem I’m having with the whole issue is that there seems to be this belief that any kind of musical stimulation that enhances or encourages an emotional response is a bad thing and should somehow be seen as manipulation. The more you read about it the more hopelessly convoluted the whole thing becomes. For example, there are those who argue that worship songs with beautiful chord changes and progressions create this atmosphere that manipulates the audience’s emotions.

Yet there are others who argue that it’s those simple, repetitive songs that are the worst. They “hypnotize” you, or put you in some kind of trance that makes you think you’re having a spiritual experience when you really aren’t; at least that’s the argument.

Then there are those that constantly scrutinize the lyrics themselves. Apparently for many people a worship song should lyrically describe their entire theological doctrine to be authentic. Simple songs that repeat a certain phrase like “Jesus Saves” are not theologically sound because they don’t also describe in detail “how” He does it. I hope you see what I’m getting at here.

It all goes on and on, but I guess the biggest problem I have with all of it is the notion that true, pure, authentic, transparent worship only happens when there is no external stimulation whatsoever. I have a problem with that for several reasons. My biggest one though, is that I believe with everything that is in me that God gave us music specifically for that purpose. The bible is full of scriptures encouraging us to use music in our praises to Him.I believe He gave us music specifically because it DOES help us get into His presence.

Just Sunday morning, for example, we had a special prayer service. The prayer carried over into the rest of the service and the holy spirit was just powerful throughout the service. At one point we were all worshiping and praying to God and the musicians were just playing softly. There was no real script, or program. It was all just happening in a very organic way. At one point I switched over to a lush string sound, and there was just something really sweet that it added to the atmosphere. The worship seemed to get even more intense, in fact.

But was that because people were worshiping the strings? Or because the sound caused some kind of artificial emotional response that everyone was mistaking for an experience with the Holy Spirit? I really don’t think so. Anyone who was there can tell you that if we had completely stopped playing the intense worship would have simply continued. In fact that’s exactly what we did do, more than once. But believe it or not I’ve even seen one or two people refer to that as “a dramatic silence” that is also designed to manipulate your emotions. Are you rolling your eyes in your head yet?

You see what we’ve always known that to be was simply “setting the atmosphere” for worship. Creating an environment conducive to worship and praise God freely. But what we’ve always known as setting the atmosphere is now being seen by many as emotional manipulation.

But here’s the most puzzling thing of all for me about this whole debate. It is true that we are in covenant relationship with God, right? We are His children, He our Father. He loves us, and we love Him. I mean this, in every sense of the word, is a relationship. How can we worship Him, or commune with Him without emotion?And if we use music to enhance that experience, then how can that be seen as manipulative?

I guess I have a hard time thinking of the word “manipulation” in context with something as awesome and wonderful as worship. A lot of things come to mind when I hear the word manipulation, but worshiping God or the feeling I get from it isn’t one of them.

And if I can’t tell an emotional high from a real encounter with the Holy Spirit, who really has the issue here? I’ve never once in my whole life been in the presence of God, crying and praying with my hands lifted, pouring my soul out, and right after it was over felt like something bad or dishonest had just happened to me. I’ve never at the end of a powerful worship experience thought “haay, you guys tricked me!!” No, usually I feel new. Cleansed. Refreshed. Like a weight has been lifted. Like I’ve been in His presence. And if music helped create the atmosphere that helped me get there, I’m having a tough time seeing that as a bad thing.

Personally I think we can analyze, scrutinize and question every little detail of every little spiritual thing until none of us believes anything we feel is real. But then maybe that’s the plan, hunh? Think about that.

 

 

 

How to put the “ministry” back in your music ministry

How to put the “ministry” back in your music ministry

A few hours ago as I started preparing myself to write today’s blog article, I started by doing what I always do. Thinking about the various facets of music ministry and wondering which one I’d focus on as my topic. But for some reason this time I found myself starting to think  about the word “ministry” itself. The word “ministry” is used so often in the church that I wonder sometimes if we really think about it’s real meaning any more.

Ministry, for many of us, has simply become that word we attach to the end of the title of any group doing anything in an organized way in a church. It’s music. We’re doing it in church. So that makes it “The Music Ministry”. We all refer to that large musical group we participate in at church as “the music ministry”. But I wonder if we really understand what that implies.

So I thought today it would be interesting to actually look at the word ministry separately and just get a good solid definition. In an article on the subject I found on GotQuestions.org the author wrote:

“Ministry” is from the Greek word diakoneo, meaning “to serve” or douleuo, meaning “to serve as a slave.” In the New Testament, ministry is seen as service to God and to other people in His name. Jesus provided the pattern for Christian ministry—He came, not to receive service, but to give it (see Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 13:1-17).

In another article I found on Kruse Kronicle the author defined it very simply this way:

ANYTHING done in service to God is ministry…….Ministry is ANY work done in response to God’s call

Taking the essence of what the word Ministry means then, and applying it to music ministry, we start to get a better understanding of the gravity of what we’re called to do. I spoke at a choir annual one year and I talked about the fact that even though only one person wears the official title of “Minister Of Music” in most music departments, every person that is a part of the music ministry is in fact a “minister of music”.

Think about that for a minute. Think about yourself as a “music minister”. Not in the sense that you’re in charge of anything, or that you play an instrument, teach, or direct. Only that you serve God and others in His name, through music. Yours is an individual ministry that is part of a larger ministry (the choir, praise team, band), who is part of an even bigger ministry (the church you attend).

That means everything you do, say and think in relationship to your service to the music department encompasses what you now think of as “your ministry”. It changes your thinking in some pretty profound ways, doesn’t it?

And yet the truth is, if we really honestly consider the real meaning of the word Ministry, we understand that as believers we are all called to be ministers. That’s true in every facet of our lives, in everything we involve ourselves in; inside the walls of the church or outside. My very life is my ministry. My service to God and to other people in His name.

It’s a pretty powerful way to think of yourself. Maybe even a stretch in some cases. But I can tell you from experience that every time you think of anything you’re doing that way, it automatically causes you to adjust your thoughts. To set your own bar higher. To strive for a higher level of excellence. Suddenly it’s very difficult to think about just you anymore.