Why I’m Worried About Your Praise Team

Some people call them “Praise Teams”, some call them “Worship Teams”. I even saw an article not long ago where the author’s sole purpose for writing it was to prove why they should be called one and not the other. I personally don’t think that’s nearly as important though, as understand and maintaining a certain level of integrity and standard in the songs that praise teams and worship teams choose to bring to the people.

It seems that as praise teams (that’s what we call them where I’m from) become more and more prominent- even completely replacing the traditional church choir altogether in some churches- they are exercising more and more “leeway” in their song selections. I suppose that’s coming from a perceived need to include more diversity because of the increased demand for more songs to sing. Some seem to be gradually becoming more interested in entertaining than really helping lead the audience in praise and worship and creating an atmosphere conducive to making that happen. Some have begun taking secular songs and just changing some of the lyrics, which I confess I find disturbing.  Others just take the secular song and sing it just like it is, which is another trend I’m concerned about.

More and more, songs are being sung by praise and worship teams that are neither praise nor worship. And while I feel like I’m really stating the obvious here, I thought if there was one rule everyone understood was the fact that praise teams and worship teams are supposed to sing praise songs and worship songs. But over the last few years of writing this blog and just talking to people serving in music ministries all over the world, I find that many praise teams- newly formed ones especially, seem to struggle with understanding what constitutes a praise song vs a worship song.

More importantly, some people struggle with identifying songs that don’t really fit either and thus aren’t really something a praise team should sing. Some people boil it down to something as simple as tempo: praise songs are fast, worship songs are slow. They do often tend to have that in common, but the difference between praise and worship is far deeper than that.

I think if praise teams better understood the difference between what praise is and what worship is they would at least have a more solid foundation to use as a guide when choosing appropriate songs for their teams.  The best place to go for that of course is the word of God. While searching the internet today I came across an article I felt really really explained that difference well. What I love about the article the most though, is that the author, whose name isn’t listed on the article, really does a great job of explaining clearly what makes praise praise and worship worship. But it’s all the scriptures included in the article that you’ll find an invaluable resource.

If we hold every song we’re considering to the scrutiny of scripture we can’t help but make better choices, simply because many of them won’t qualify when held to that standard. First getting a clear understanding about the difference between praise and worship and then understanding what scripture says about both will set your praise or worship team on the right path to choosing songs that are truly praise and worship songs and are scriptural in their lyrical content.

The article I mentioned can be found on GotQuestions.org and it’s called What Is The Difference Between Praise And Worship?

For even more articles to help you with your praise/worship team ministry check out Praise Team 101.

Do We Have To “Urbanize” Everything We Sing?

I’ve often pondered this privately because it’s one of those things that can easily spark a bunch of debate, and I’m really not too fond of that. Especially regarding faith and the things of God. But a blog is a different story. You almost NEED a little controversy now and then on a blog, or it’s just boring. Sooo, let me ask a very frank question here. Do we have to “Urbanize” everything we sing?”

First of all let me say that I realize and greatly appreciate the fact that I have readers and followers from several countries, nationalities and ethnicities.  If you all would be so kind, please talk among yourselves for a moment.  I need to chat with my Gospel groups, praise teams and churches for a bit.

I often say if you’re a Gospel praise team and you’re not doing any of the wonderfully beautiful praise and worship songs being written in the Contemporary Christian Music genre you’re doing your team and your congregation a great disservice. Some of the most beautiful worship songs can be found down the dial a bit. Ditto for praise songs. Great up-beat, up-lifting songs.

There are indeed a growing number of Gospel music ministries that have figured this out and are adding CCM praise and worship songs to their roster. But what I see quite often is that when they do they feel the need to somehow “make it more black”. They change chord progressions, add vamps and fancy bridges, etc.

I think this is rather unfortunate, actually. And really, unnecessary. I suppose the general thought is “if we do this song just like it is our congregation won’t like it or won’t receive it because it will sound “too white” or “too plain”. I definitely understand the concern, but I think it’s perhaps a bit of over thinking.  So I’d like to offer two thoughts for you to ponder the next time you’re considering “doctoring up” a CCM song to make it sound more “gospel-y”.

1. Your concern about whether or not your congregation will accept the song done the original way is probably misplaced. Many, many people who grew up listening to Gospel music actually love the fresh, clean sound and pure message of CCM praise and worship songs. Not only would many of them embrace these songs, many of them would think it a welcome change.

2. The fact is, if you’ve been eating, sleeping and drinking Gospel music all your life, anything you sing is going to have that flavor. The same goes with the musicians. So even if you do a CCM worship song as is with no changes, it will take on a Gospel feel just because a Gospel group is doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these modifications don’t work. Many of them go on to be big hits. But Contemporary Christian praise songs have a sincerity and purity that frankly is sometimes lacking in Gospel. The focus with CCM writers is  on pure, authentic worship and praise. The musical arrangement is often understated so that it’s not the focus. The song arrangements are kept simple (we can get pretty complex sometimes, making it more about the musicianship than the message).

I could go on here, but the point I’m making is that adding CCM songs to your roster and just doing them straightforward could be just the thing to help your ministry widen it’s appeal, add depth, variety and balance. So don’t always feel that the only way you can do CCM songs at your church is to somehow make them blacker and more gospel. A great worship song is a great worship song, just the way it is. Going out of your way to add stuff to make it sound more like a Gospel song can actually detract from it if you’re not careful.

Just one more point of view.

The Most Overlooked Reason Congregations Don’t Sing Along With The Praise Team

I saw an article recently that talked about what he referred to as “the death of congregational singing”. One of the main reasons he sited for this is how much more complicated songs have become in this day and age than they were before. It’s true, even of some praise and worship songs.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “a song the angels can’t sing”. Well unfortunately I believe many praise teams are often choosing songs the congregation can’t sing. Something most of us don’t consider when we’re choosing songs is the most obvious consideration of all: Will the audience be able to sing this?

Often in our zeal to choose powerful, popular songs that we feel will create an atmosphere of praise, we choose songs that are, quite frankly, intimidating for the audience. Don’t get me wrong, the audience may be really enjoying the song. Yet they don’t actually participate in the worship experience. Instead most congregations simply stand politely and watch the praise team; because that’s what they’re supposed to do. That’s protocol. Here comes the praise team, better stand.

But when it comes to actually joining in and becoming an active participate in the praise and worship many congregation members find the songs simply too intimidating to sing along. They may feel it’s too high, too many words, the format or flow of the song is complicated- you get the idea.

We often fail to catch this because we’re singers and musicians. This is pretty common stuff for us. So when we hear that hot up-tempo song with the awesome chord progressions and the great harmony arrangement-the one that modulates 4 times and just works us into a frenzy-we think “Oh man, this is gonna be great! We goin’ IN when we sing this!”

We fail to understand that the people in the audience aren’t “music people” like us. So while modulations, high notes and directional changes are all familiar to us, they tend to leave audience members thinking “I can’t do that” (COUGH “Chasing After You” COUGH). So they stand and clap and enjoy the show, but they don’t join in the praise.

So it’s really important for praise team leaders and members to never lose sight of why we even have a praise team in the first place. Our primary goal is to create an atmosphere that encourages corporate praise and worship. That only happens though, when the audience begins to join in and sing together, rather than watch our “praise show” from the sidelines.
For more articles and help with your praise or worship team’s ministry check out Praise Team 101.

How embracing technology can take your ministry to the next level

Moving onIt’s no secret we live in the information age. The entire world is literally at our finger tips now. And yet many people are hesitant to embrace technology. I suspect though, that it’s not  as much about fear as it is about that unwillingness we all have to embrace change. After all, doing something new comes with learning, and fumbling, and reading, and time spent having to think- all of which many of us have “switched off” by the time we’re around 30 or so, in favor of our nice, normal, comfortable lives.

But what if I told you that embracing technology is all a part of God’s plan? Have you ever thought of that? Sure it is. It HAS to be. Remember this scripture?

Matthew 24:14

14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.

I don’t think anyone would argue against the fact that it’s happening right now, and technology is a huge part of what’s making it possible. But what about YOUR message. YOUR ministry. What about what God put inside of YOU? The same technology that is right now sending the Gospel to all parts of the world has been made available for you to use to take your ministry to the next level. That means your singing. Your playing. Your teaching. Your coaching. Your encouraging words. Whatever that gift is that God has given you to bless others. We all have one, some more than one. And we all have them for a purpose

There’s no reason not to take advantage of every tool and resource God has made available to you in order to take your ministry to the next level. And now that we’re in the 21st Century, the time has come to stop resisting change and embrace this new technology that God is using to reach all parts of the world.

Did you know for example, that you can you get one-on-one coaching with me from anywhere in the country? Did you know that we can do live, face-to-face coaching via video, in real time via Skype? Oh, I see. You don’t know anything about Skype and don’t want to have to download something (even if it’s free). And you don’t have a webcam or a microphone so you don’t want the hassle and expense ($50 or less for both) of buying them and setting them up. I understand.

Well would it surprise you to know that you can also do it right from your Facebook profile? YES!! Still don’t trust it? Well, do you trust your cell phone? Because guess what, in the age we live in now, you can make calls all over the country without any long distance charges. So you can even take a lesson with me by phone! I’ve done it myself several times when I studied with a vocal coach out of California.

And the great thing is, there’s no need to stop with just voice lessons. As I type this there is a church music department preparing to install a web cam in their sanctuary so they can do a live praise team workshop with me over the internet. Another long-time reader is planning to take a lesson with me via phone. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve studied with me already, via my free video vocal training course. Still others have been taking vocal lessons with me for months in my new home study vocal training program Vocal Ministry Breakthough. The possibilities are endless now.

In the 21st Century you can study almost anything you want with anyone you want from anywhere you want. Think of the freedom that gives you. Think of the incredible levels of access you now have. God has literally erased all boundaries and limitations to you having everything you’ve been praying about for your ministry. It’s time you open up your heart and mind and start embracing all of the great and wonderful things God has put in place to get to us everything our heart has desired. It’s time to, as Kirk Franklin said, “Get Up And Live!”

  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? Isaiah 43:19

 

Best Easter Songs For Gospel Choir

A while back I was searching the internet for something related to Gospel Choir and I stumbled upon this Squiddoo page. The author, Joan Hall, goes by the name of Joan The Choir Lady. Her Squiddoo page was full of tons of great information for choirs. I got to know her on Facebook, and she recently told me that Squiddoo no longer exists! But Joan has transferred all of her awesome articles and lists for Choirs to her website, ChoirParts.com.

But the one I want to share with you today absolutely blew me away. Joan  has put together one of the most exhaustive, complete references I have ever seen on Gospel Choir songs for Easter. You have got to see this thing!

Not only did Joan put together an amazing list, but she also included YouTube videos where available, song keys and even level of difficulty! I was amazed. I’m not even going to post any of it here because I want absolutely no credit whatsoever for the work this young lady has put into this.

So please, please go right now to Joan’s website and check out  Best Easter Songs For Gospel Choir . I need you guys to do me a favor when you get there though. When you go to Joan’s page, please leave her a comment thanking her for this awesome page. And when you do, tell her that you learned about her from The Music Ministry Coach.com!

Seriously, if you don’t find an Easter song for your Gospel choir on this page, something’s wrong!

How to sing with emotion- without getting too emotional

The subject of singing with emotion is a challenging one for all singers, but especially so for Gospel and Christian music singers. On the one hand, we want our singing have feeling, sincerity and heart-felt emotion. We want the audience to feel that and, because we want to be authentic in our service to God through music ministry, we want to feel it too. But there is a very fine line between singing with emotion and singing while emotional. The former you can certainly do, and you should. The latter though, is next to impossible to do. You can sing with emotion, but you can NOT sing while you’re emotional.

Have you ever tried to actually sing while you were crying? It’s just not gonna happen. Your voice gets all quivery and starts cracking, and who knows what else. You simply can’t hold your voice together and under control while you’re an emotional wreck. This though, is the ultimate dilemma for many singers. How do you give a song all the emotion it deserves without crossing that fine and becoming too emotional to even sing? I have 2 really simple tips I think might help.

1. Spend lots of time listening to the song.

Every once in a while I hear a song and it just wipes me out. And then it wipes me out again 2 days later when I hear it again. And again the 3rd time I hear it. But something starts to happen around the 4th time or so. The song still touches me and ministers to me deeply, but now I can hear it without crying. A similar process happens with all things that make you really emotional to the point of crying. Time and repetition doesn’t harden you or change your feelings. It just gets you to a point where you’re in much better control of them.

So when you’re scheduled to do a song that really takes you there emotionally, spend lots of time listening to the song. Practice singing it. After a few times through it you’ll get to a place where your emotions are more under control, even though you still feel the same way about the song and the message.

2. Open your eyes

Aside from the complete disconnect between you and your audience, there are other reasons why you should never sing entire songs with your eyes closed. Singing songs entirely with your eyes closed has a way of blocking out everything and focusing only on the lyrics and the message you’re singing. It becomes very, very personal and you’re almost sure to get the water works going. However, when you sing with your eyes open and actually look at people in your audience, you’ll find that you still have the freedom to sing with all the emotion you like. But you’re a lot less likely to get too emotional and start crying when you’re engaging the audience. Break your audience into 4 squares. Then pick someone in each square that seems to be with you and supporting you. As you sing, just move from square to square, looking at that one person briefly and then moving to the next square. Try these two tips the next time you’re faced with the difficult task of getting through a song that makes you really emotional. Remember, at home or in your car, when you listen to that song it is to, for and about you and only you. When you get up to sing it though, it becomes a message that is for, about and to the audience. Switching to that frame of mind allows you to sing with as much emotion as you like without becoming too emotional to sing.

And that would be a great last sentence for this blog.  BUT!! 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t stress that even in all of this, the Holy Spirit must be allowed to have His way. No matter how well you do all of the above, there will be times when the presence of God is so thick in the room you just can’t go on.. Forget about the song at that point. :O)

Are you ready to lead a song but you’re avoiding it because you don’t think you can do the ad-libbing part? If that’s all that’s holding you back I have something that will help. Check it out here.