Why I’m Worried About Your Praise Team

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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?

5 Spiritual Dangers To Praise Teams

spiritual danger

There is a certain glamour or prestige associated with being on the praise team; at least in many people’s mind. Praise teams have become the it thing in churches, it seems. But with their popularity comes many challenges.

While doing some research on the subject I came across a powerful article that dealt with some of the “spiritual traps” many praise team members can fall into.  The title of the article was 5 Spiritual Dangers To Praise Teams. I’ll list the 5 topics covered in the article and give you a little snippet. Then I’ll post the link and the author’s info at the bottom so you can read the article in full.

Danger #1:  Ego issues

“Musicians take pride in their craft. Whether vocal or instrumental, most have an emotional investment in what they do. Being a part of a team effort places you in a position of having your pride challenged. Consider the vocalist who at times tends to let their pitch drop just a bit, or one who isn’t getting the correct rhythm. Being corrected by the worship leader in front of the others can be a blow to our ego. Some musicians are far more impressed with their talent level than are others and can tend to want to push their sound to rise above that of the others. What can you do about that?”
Danger #2:  Addiction to the spotlight

“This is closely aligned with the ego/attitude problem.  Being in front of people on a weekly basis can become addictive, and tends to give an unhealthy balance in how a member views themselves and their life. A person’s identity shouldn’t be defined by being on a stage.”

Danger #3:  Being a performer rather than a worshipper
I personally read this one with great interest. If you know me you know that I do believe in the importance of perfecting and honing your craft. But I believe that’s important not so that you can be the center of attention. In fact I believe the opposite. I think the most important reason to perfect your harmony and musicianship is precisely so NOBODY will be paying attention to you. The objective is to remove all hindrances, not to focus on the importance of the performance itself.

However when you spend that kind of time and effort on perfecting and honing your delivery there is indeed a danger of  beginning to place too much importance on the performance itself. The author does a great job of addressing this in danger number 3.

Danger #4: Burnout

“Rehearsals and multiple services can drain our time and energy. If you are naturally active, you can be so involved that you grow to resent the time drain of the team.”

Danger #5: Ignoring Spiritual Disciplines

 

“You might assume that serving on the team gives you all the spiritual nourishment that you need. Well, it doesn’t. Like every believer, you need to practice the spiritual disciplines if you expect to have any vital spiritual strength.”

Ok is this great stuff or what?! I read the whole thing guys, and I INSIST that you do the same. The Article was written by Thamuss. You can find his bio on his HubPages profile.
Read the article in it’s entirety at 5 Spiritual Dangers To Praise Teams.

50 Choir And Praise Team Songs For Thanksgiving

50 thanksgiving songs

So Thanksgiving is upon us already! And if your music department is anything like ours you must be thinking “isn’t there anything else we can do for Thanksgiving besides Thank You by Walter Hawkins?? I’m glad you asked! The family over on the Fan Page has done it again, creating yet another fantastic list of great songs.

This time I asked for songs great for Thanksgiving. You’ll see songs tagged as good for choirs, praise teams or both. As usual I like to embed the actual post here in the article, because these lists have a tendency to keep growing over the next couple of days.

So click on the like button of you’re not connected yet, then click on the comment button below to go straight to the live post on the Fan Page. If you don’t see the post below right away give it a couple of seconds to load. May not work in Google Chrome.

https://www.facebook.com/TheMusicMinistryCoach/posts/679136215437788

 

4 Possible Reasons Your Congregation Didn’t Like The New Song

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So you hear this great song and think it’s great for your choir or praise team. You go to all the trouble of learning it and teaching it. You perform it in the front of the congregation next Sunday and…. (insert cricket sounds here). The song bombs! It’s a very peculiar thing, isn’t it? Sometimes you’re just sure a song will bless everyone, because it blessed you! And then sometimes a song you don’t really care much for will tear the house up. It’s a very hard thing to predict sometimes. The good news is there are some pretty common things that can cause this to happen. Knowing what they are and making a couple of slight changes to your song selection process can dramatically increase your success rate with new songs.

Let’s start with the 4 most common reasons a song you loved ends up bombing:

1. Great music, weak message.

Gospel music isn’t like secular music. While we love our music, it is in fact still ministry. So if the song isn’t really saying much of anything people will pick up on that. We as musicians and singers love music on a deeper level than the average person sitting in the congregation. So we may grow so attached to a great musical arrangement that we become willing to overlook or justify lyrical content that is maybe more fluff than real message. This one is perhaps the most deceptive of the 3 I’ll give you today, because music just moves music lovers. But if you’re not very careful in this regard you could end up with a song that only moves the people in the music department, while leaving the congregation feeling like outsiders.

2. Great message, weak music

I know it’s hard to accept or even admit (which is why nobody else talks about this) but even a song with a good message can fail to go over well with the wrong arrangement. This one can get more complicated to explain, because of the propensity of songs to speak to people on such an individual way. So I’ll give you a case study. We had a director once who chose a song for us to sing. The message ministered to him in a deep and personal way, and he believed the message was too important not to do. Well, to make a long story short the song just went over like a rock with the choir. None of us liked it. We couldn’t feel it spiritually, and we just couldn’t get into it. The director felt so strongly about the song that he forced us to do it anyway. We obeyed. The song bombed. And we never did it again.

The thing about Gospel music is that it has to have both. It needs a great message AND a great musical arrangement. In the above example the message was a good one, but it was a very personal one. It was a song about God bringing someone back from the brink of suicide. Encouraging, but not something everyone can relate to. But that’s not what killed it for us. What killed it for us was the arrangement. It was a very slow, somber kind of musical arrangement that was very quiet and didn’t really build any sense of triumph until the end. Even the melody of the vocal arrangement had this sad, somber delivery through most of it. We were so depressed listening to that song we just couldn’t get into it. But because it meant so much to him, we did it anyway. You already know the results.

3. Great music, great lyrics, wrong style

Sometimes a song just has it all. Awesome musical arrangement, powerful message….but it still doesn’t go over well. Usually that’s because the style is wrong for your congregation. You should definitely bring variety to your music ministry. The key is being smart about how you use them, and knowing how far to go in either direction. There’s almost no extreme in the backwards direction. Older songs had a tendency to put much more thought into having both the music and the message. Then there’s that old-school sound that takes us all back.

Contemporary songs though, offer a lot more potential to get it wrong. Even with an audience that is receptive to contemporary music you have to be very careful how far you push the envelope. You are much more likely to end up with a song that fits scenario number 1 above when you’re dealing with contemporary Gospel/Christian music. The key is learning, observing and getting to know what your house responds to best. If you’re making the effort to do that and adjusting accordingly, your chances of success increase significantly. For example, even if your audience loves old traditional songs you have to be smart about how you incorporate them. In most churches an old traditional song will have a much more powerful effect if it’s used as a “throw-back” now and then instead of something that’s happening every Sunday. A really edgy contemporary song might bomb if the sanctuary choir did it but get a standing ovation from the junior choir.

One change you should consider if you don’t already do it this way, is to involve more than one person in the song selection process. We’ve done it this way for many years and it works very well. This gives you a system of checks and balances, so-to-speak.  That way you’re never choosing songs based on how it affected just one person.  Allowing a small group to listen, evaluate and vote on a song gives you a much better idea of how well it will go over.

4. Great Lyrics, Great Arrangement, Bad Performance

Let’s face it guys. Sometimes a song has everything it needs. It’s a great song, from front to back. Perfect for your audience, lines up with you Pastor’s vision, everything. And we just don’t pull it off.

A great song, no matter how amazing it is, can not overcome a bad performance. That’s why I’m such a big advocate of doing two things:
1. Choosing songs appropriate for your group’s skill level
2. Perfecting those songs to the best of your ability.

It takes a lot of honesty..and frankly, a lot of time…to realize a song is just not right for your group. It may be any number of reasons. And the thing is we often won’t know until we try it by learning it. But if you’ve tried it several times and just can’t get it down, it may be one you have to let go of.

Sometimes though, a great choir learns a great song but is still a bit unsure. But because they learned it they sing it anyway. Mistakes happen and it doesn’t go well. So don’t sing it until you have it down. There are other scenarios of course, but the main point here is to choose songs you can do and do them to the highest level your ministry can do them.

Help take your performances to the next level with professional vocal training. Study in the comfort and privacy of your own home, at your own pace. More Info:

Image courtesy of “Grant Cochrane”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The one unpleasant thing every music ministry MUST have

Unpleasant

If there’s one thing all choirs, praise teams, and pretty-much any other music ministry with more than one member have in common it’s personnel issues. That’s a broad term, to be sure. But I’m speaking specifically of the common problems most ministries deal with in regard to people just consistently being there and being on time.  It can really throw a monkey wrench in things when you’ve rehearsed material for Sunday morning and you’re depending on key people to be in place, only to find them absent or simply arriving too late.

There are times when a choir or praise team can’t do the song they planned to do because the leader who was supposed to sing it isn’t there, or the musician, or the director, or half the alto section- you get the idea. And while every music ministry who is preparing themselves well at rehearsal will have back-up songs in place for just such occurrences,  when it’s happening all the time it can really become a hindrance to the group’s ability to minister effectively. Not to mention it’s just plain frustrating and unfair to everyone involved with the process of learning, teaching and perfecting the songs.

While I haven’t always felt this way, as I’ve grown and matured over the years I’ve come to understand that you can’t always assume that what things look like from your vantage point is the Gospel truth. There may in fact be- and there usually is, to be honest- very valid reasons why a person is consistently late or absent at key times.  But if we’re going to be honest, we must also point out that for every person having a serious life circumstance that causes them to continually be absent or late, there must be 2 or 3 who could absolutely be on time with a little more effort.

There’s really only one way to effectively and fairly handle issues like this. But it’s one many choirs and praise teams don’t want to resort to. It’s the one thing that is, I believe, necessary and vital to the success of ANY organization, but especially music ministries. This unpleasant thing is:

Rules.

Rules are a no-brainer for most organizations. It just makes sense. It’s expected. Music departments though-especially smaller ones who don’t have many members to start with- have a hard time enforcing rules. You see if my choir only has about 10 members then I need every single body. So if 3 Sopranos come in late, I’m just glad they showed up. Come on up here!!

There is also the emotional difficulty of the task itself. It’s no fun telling people they can’t sing today. Especially when you really don’t know what the underlying issue is. But the truth is, the consequences of not having any rules in place-or having them and not enforcing them- soon become greater than the unpleasantness of enforcing them. When there are no rules that govern attendance and timeliness, then spotty attendance and tardiness become the acceptable norm for many members.

When you know you can be a half hour late on Sunday morning and still come on up, that’s exactly what you’ll do. As I said earlier, not every person that is late or absent is habitually doing so without cause. There are people who have real challenges that are valid. Challenges that they are working through and praying about. Issues that they’re fighting through in order to be there. But there are also people who simply aren’t putting forth the effort to be there on time.

As unpleasant as it is to do, rules are the only way to filter the two and make the whole thing fair for everyone. You will find that when there is a consequence for tardiness, for example- that people who are tardy for a reason they can’t help will come to you and discuss a solution. They will come to you in humility and explain their situation, offer to sit out for a while, try to work something out.
But the first time the person who is just late because they don’t want to leave home earlier has to sit in the audience and watch that ministry go forth in the Lord, they will feel something they haven’t felt before. They will feel the unpleasantness of not being able to come up and participate in the ministry. That is a powerful motivator, believe me. I’ll never forget one time my keyboard was in the shop for a while. Now, I didn’t sit in the audience, I simply went up and joined the Tenors in the choir stand. But the whole morning I was looking over there at the band going forth and just burning inside wishing I was over there too. And I LOVE to sing! So imagine what a person who enjoys singing in the choir or on the praise team would feel sitting in the audience unable to participate.

That feeling alone is often enough to motivate a person who is habitually late on Sunday mornings or absent at rehearsal to make an effort to be there that they simply hadn’t made before. But if I can miss rehearsal and still sing Sunday; AND I don’t even have to get up any earlier because I can still go up and sing even if I’m late…then there just isn’t much motivation for me to make any additional sacrifice to improve my attendance or my tardiness.

And as long as we’re talking about sacrifice, the fact that enforcing rules comes with sacrifice for the whole ministry isn’t lost on me. I understand better than anyone that when you start enforcing rules that force people to sit out when they miss rehearsal or show up late on Sunday, it can really put the ministry at a disadvantage. That’s especially true of smaller ministries where every member is critical.

This is in fact the most common reason most ministries don’t have, or don’t enforce rules that govern attendance and tardiness. But the fact is, your ministry will be held hostage by the issue until it is addressed with some kind of consequence. Your choir may have to do the crutch song  one Sunday instead of the one you rehearsed. Or the Praise team may have to go with plan B. Or there may be fewer bodies up there than you’d like.

But in all likelihood you won’t have to deal with that scenario too many times once you start enforcing some standard that does not allow people who habitually miss rehearsal or come in late to perform anyway. Rules are unpleasant to enforce and can be hard on everyone, really. But they have a very powerful way of making people either step up or step aside. Either way your ministry ends up better off in the end.

4 reasons your music department should hang out regularly

group of friends

It’s common knowledge to most people that musicians who play together over a period of time start to get tighter and tighter at their craft. After a while watching them play together feels like you’re watching them read each other’s minds or something. This bond- this “gel”, if you will, is something that bands work very deliberately to develop. They do so by practicing together a lot, of course.

But bands have a tendency to do something that other groups- be it a choir, praise team, ensemble or other group- don’t tend to do.  Simply put, band members tend to be a lot more likely to hang out- together socially. I shared with you a while back in another blog how the band at my church and I have developed such a bond that they anticipate what I want when I’m teaching, even when my back is to them. That same cohesiveness extends to Sunday morning when we play together. We have gotten to a place where each member knows every other member’s style, their strengths, their weaknesses- we even know each other’s musical preferences.

Aside from the fact that we have worked together for so many years, I believe a big part of what has created this bond between us is that we regularly spend time just talking and laughing with each other. This usually happens at musician’s rehearsal, but it’s something we always take time to do. Musician’s rehearsal for us is like going out somewhere and just enjoying each other’s company as friends. Sure, we’re there for a reason and we have an agenda we need to get accomplished. But we just enjoy the process itself. We love playing together. But it’s the time we spend just laughing and clowning around that really makes the difference.

So, how often does your choir have a social event, like a dinner or some other outing? When is the last time all the members of the praise team or band got together away from the church?  This is something most ministries just don’t think about, actually. For some- and understandably so- they see it as yet another thing to do, or another place to have to be. But a group that spends time laughing, talking and just spending time together reaps huge benefits in their ministry.

Here are 4 ways your music ministry benefits when the members hang out regularly.

1. The members get to know each other more personally.

Although it’s common for some members of a group to know each other and perhaps even call each other regularly, most of us only see and communicate with each other at church and then at rehearsal. Having regular social gatherings gives members a chance to get to know each other more personally. This often leads to more cooperation in the group, less disagreeing, less jealousy, pettiness, etc.

2. Your members start to develop similar goals and wishes for the group as a whole

There’s nothing like being in an environment where you can talk freely. Groups who hang out find that the members get closer. When people become close they often take on similar views about things that are important to them. When a choir, for example, begins doing things regularly as a group, you’ll find that the members begin to share a common vision for the ministry. A greater sense of pride and “ownership” develops.

3.  Hanging out socially on a regular basis creates a strong bond

When a group starts making a deliberate effort to hang out and do social events together on a regular basis, they quickly start developing that same kind of “gel” effect that most musicians feel. Becoming closer as individuals makes you closer as a group. You’ll soon find the effects of this closer bond showing up not only in rehearsals, but in performances.

4. Having regular social gatherings for fun breaks up the monotony

Most music ministries have a similar routine; Have rehearsal to prepare for Sunday. Sing Sunday. Announce next rehearsal. Repeat. You’re not careful the repetitive nature of it can cause your ministry to slide into complacency or “autopilot” as I discussed in another article. Having regular social events helps keep your group’s ministry fresh and exciting by breaking up the “routine”.

So whether it’s a praise team, choir or some other group, try to make an effort to do some kind of social outing regularly. Do simple things like a “pot luck”, or bowling, skating, etc. Monthly may be too often for many people, so consider doing it every other month or even Quarterly,  even  for example. Any musical group that spends time laughing, talking and enjoying each other socially becomes, a tighter, closer, more cohesive group. And that makes for some powerful ministry.

 

 

Finding the worship flow; 3 ways to break your praise team out of the “A & B selection” mentality

Do you ever feel like your praise team is kinda missing something in their delivery of worship? You’ve seen those praise teams that just have this “flow” in their service. Things just naturally move from one song to another in a kind of organic way.  Sadly though, for many younger, newly established praise teams it’s more like “and now for our next number”.

I referred to it in the subject line as the A&B selection mentality. I realize that I have readers from many backgrounds, nationalities and even a few different countries who might have NO CLUE what I’m talking about there, so let me briefly explain. The term “an A & a B selection” is an old term that has been used for many years in the black church.  You’d hear the emcee announce “And now the choir will come to us with an A & a B selection”. It simply meant that the choir would be singing 2 songs (I’m speaking as if this term isn’t still being used, lol!).  The two songs don’t necessarily have anything in common with each other besides the fact that they’re both Gospel songs.

This is fine for a choir, group or ensemble. For a praise team though, it’s not the ideal way to go. A praise team’s job is to help set an atmosphere that encourages  corporate praise and/or worship. We want everyone to be in a place where they are communing with God in a very personal way.   As such a praise team must seek to do more than just simply sing two praise team songs. Many praise teams, for example, feel that because it’s “praise and worship” we must sing a fast song (for the praise) and a slow song (for the worship). There’s not much thought put into it beyond that though.

As a result, many praise teams find that even when the audience is enjoying their selections, they fall short of creating that atmosphere of worship. It ends up a lot like a mini version of the choir. So in order to really be effective a praise team has to break out of this “one song, then another song” way of ministering. Here are 3 ways you can help your praise team develop that natural, organic worship style where worship seems to just kind of evolve from one stage to the next.

 

 

1. Look for songs of similar subject matter.

Find songs that have similar lyrical content. These songs will feel more natural when you sing them back to back because one will feel like a continuation of the same thought or message.

2. Try doing songs with similar tempo/feel

Don’t get too locked into thinking you have to do a fast song and a slow song. Think instead about songs that have a similar tempo or feel. I.e, two up-tempo songs rather than one really up-tempo song and then a very slow worship song with totally different subject matter.

3. Try to avoid the “dead stop” between songs

Even if the tempo of the next song is dramatically different than the one before, the most effective praise teams find ways to make the transition between the two feel natural and smooth. Your musician(s) (can be an integral part of helping make this happen). Try to avoid ending a song and completely stopping down. Instead look for ways to connect and transition out of one song and into the next. Here’s one example we did recently using two songs with totally different tempos but very similar lyrical content.

We sang VaShawn Mitchel’s “Chasing After You” and transitioned out of that into a very slow song, More, More, More by Joan Rosario. The two are very different as far as feel and tempo, but they worked great together because “Chasing After You” ends with the lyrics repeating  “more and more”.  We simply came out of that and into the chorus of More, More, More.

Get the idea? This is not only a very effective way to help take your praise team’s ministry to new heights, but it’s really fun to do and you’ll get into it once you get started.  In fact, let’s start now! Leave me a comment below and tell me two praise and/or worship songs that would be great together back to back.

 

 

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.
For the last several months I’ve been teaching the praise team at my own church a new method of learning songs that revolves around this very concept. The E.A.U (Eliminate All Uncertainty ) song learning method for praise teams is what I call it. It teaches groups and praise teams who don’t have a director in front of them how to work as a cohesive unit, moving instinctively through the material in a way that frees every member of any distractions that hinder their worship during ministry.

When we have executed this well the results have been nothing short of amazing. I will be packaging this system soon and making it available for purchase to help your praise team, group or choir go to the next level of music ministry. Stay tuned!

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.

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.