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.

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.

 

 

 

Serving with gladness; finding contentment without the spotlight

Spotlight BeamI’ve served in the music ministry for most of my life. God has blessed me with with many gifts, several of which naturally cause me to gravitate to the front. But believe it or not I find my greatest fulfillment serving behind the scenes. Honestly though, that’s not the case for many people in music ministry. Quite often a member of the choir, praise team or other group develops a very strong desire to be out front in some capacity. Sadly though, that opportunity is not always afforded to everyone that wants it.

There could be any number of reasons someone who wants to come to the front may not be allowed to. It could be that the position or task is just not the best fit for the person for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s just a personnel issue. But the enemy seldom allows us to see things as they really are. Especially in music ministry, where the gathering of so many different personality types, egos and agendas make it an easy target.

Sadly, even in the most innocent of circumstances the devil can make a person believe there is all kinds of hatred and favoritism at work that is keeping you from being allowed to lead a song, or direct, or serve in whatever leadership capacity you’re seeking. We could go back and forth at length about the particulars, and I could give a list of all the possible reasons you’re not being given the opportunity you believe you deserve. I understand that it’s frustrating. It’s hard to have the desire to serve on a higher level and feel like you’re being held back. But honestly, it is seldom as it seems, my friend. The devil knows that music is one of the most powerful and effective tools God has given us for the building and edification of His kingdom. So he is always seeking ways to sow discord and division by playing against our own vanities.

The truth is, you will always be an easy target for his tricks and manipulative ways until you find a place of contentment in your service. To thwart the efforts of the enemy you must get to a place where you are completely happy and satisfied just serving in the music ministry. That’s easier said than done, I know. Because it takes some serious renewing of your mind. One thing I’m always teaching on some level or another, no matter what aspect of music ministry I’m talking about, is understanding the bigger picture. How your efforts contribute to the success or failure of the ministry, and how the ministry as a whole affects so many other things and touches so many people.

It’s learning to look beyond your own limited field of vision. This is the secret of those who are always content no matter what they’re doing in the music department. I know people who can sing until the hairs on your neck stand up. They are accomplished leaders and soloists. Their names around our church are synonymous with really good singing. And yet if we go for months without ever calling them down front to lead, you’ll see them smiling and singing and praising God right there in their section.

You can only reach that level of pure contentment in service when you really understand how important every single person is to a music ministry. You see my friends I just mentioned know that even when they’re just singing in their section they’re making a very important contribution to our ability to serve effectively as a unit. But being happy in the background goes even deeper than that.

The bible tells us in scripture after scripture to avoid doing things to be seen of men. Or to be praised or glorified of ourselves. Look at this example:

Collosians 3-23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving

This is just one example of a theme we see recurring throughout the bible. A message of being content in your service and not seeking to be seen or praised by men. To reach that place of contentment in music ministry you have to see the importance of what you do as an individual to the success or failure of the music ministry. I spoke at a choir annual one year and I referred to this concept as “The Ministry Of Me”. I told the choir that year that even though only one person wears the official title of “Minister Of Music”, every single person that is involved in a music ministry is indeed a minister of music. It’s a very sobering and powerful thing to think of yourself that way. Not just as a “member” but a minister of music. What you do is not “just” singing or just playing. It’s ministry. It’s YOUR ministry, and your calling right where you are.

Just like the ministers who sit on the pulpit but never bring the message, every person in the music department plays a critical supporting role in it’s success. If for some reason I became unable to play keyboard tomorrow I’d sure miss it. But the very next Sunday I’d be up there in the Tenor section rocking it out and singing to the glory and honor of God. I’m a leader too, but I go for months- sometimes years- without leading a song. And I’m completely happy and totally content with that. Because you see, when you have a deep, unwavering passion for music ministry, you just want to be a part of it. If your reason for being there is genuine that’s enough to make you happy. I encourage you to seek that place of contentment.

By the way, I know another young lady who, for many many years, has sang alto for our choir. She has never wanted to lead a song. We’ve asked her many times over the years. But she was much more content just singing alto. Only she doesn’t “just” sing alto. She’s one of the strongest, most consistent, most reliable, most depended on altos up there. And every Sunday you can find her singing right there in the alto section, her hands going up, tears flowing, completely and utterly happy without the glare of the spotlight. And it is because of her years of happily serving God, never seeking leadership or accolades, that God favored her and elevated her to the position of choir president.

She runs the whole choir but you’d never be able to pick her out if you didn’t know her. Because every Sunday she’s standing right there where she’s always stood. In the choir stand, singing alto, hands going up, tears flowing, completely and utterly happy…without the glare of the spotlight.

 

Video blog: How to measure your vocal range (and how much you really need)

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5 things your praise team must do to win over your congregation

Praise teams are nothing new for many denominations, as they’ve been using praise teams for years. But for many of the African-American churches, having a praise team come forth instead of testimony service or morning devotion is very much a new thing. And like all new things, many newly formed praise teams are being met with a great deal of resistance from their congregations. Today I’ll share 5 of the most important things I think praise teams need to do in order to be successful at wining over their church congregation.

1. Choose true Praise And Worship Songs.

A praise team’s job is somewhat different from say, the choir’s job. Praise and Worship is really, in a sense, a form of prayer set to music. The praise team’s main goal is to set an atmosphere that encourages and facilitates praising and worshiping God. As such, you should endeavor to choose songs where both the lyrical content and the musical arrangement encourages and helps the audience to sing along in praise and worship to God.
The best praise and worship songs are SIMPLE and repetitive. These kinds of songs are easy for your audience to learn, which encourages them to sing along and participate in the praise and worship.

Praise songs should be mid to up-tempo songs that have a positive vibe musically, and lyrically focus on praising and exalting God; “Oh give thanks/ Unto the Lord/ For He is good/ Yes He is good” , for example. This is a happy, up-tempo song that gets the audience clapping and singing along.

Worship songs are generally slower and talk more about relationship, closeness and what God means to us: “Into Your arms/ I’m drawing near again/ to dwell with You/ Is my only heart’s desire”

Try to choose songs based solely on their ability to encourage and facilitate praise and worship throughout the congregation. Avoid choosing songs because they’re popular or they’re everyone’s favorite. Often some songs are great but would work better for the choir or some other group rather than for praise and worship.

2. Rehearse And Perfect Your Songs To The Best Of Your Ability

It’s very important for praise teams to understand how critical it is that you serve in the highest level that you’re able to. Praise teams are an entirely different animal from the choir. Usually everyone on the praise team is singing in front of a microphone. The songs, although typically more simple than choir songs, are often written with an even greater focus on the harmony and over-all sound. Remember, we’re trying to set an atmosphere that encourages praise and facilitates worship. Imaging going to a romantic, dimly lit restaurant for an expensive dinner only to find them playing terrible music over the sound system. Even if the music was your favorite love songs, you simply couldn’t get in a romantic mood if it sounded bad.

As such, every performance for a praise team should be as good as you can make it. People often misunderstand the need or the importance of perfecting your songs and striving for excellence in your music ministry. I talk about that a great deal in my blog “why it’s better to sing in unison than to sing with bad harmony”. But the important thing to remember is that you want your praise team to simply be a vessel, or a conduit through which the Holy Spirit can flow musically. You don’t want anything you’re doing to be a distraction in that sense. It is absolutely more work, to be sure. But the work is well worth it, and if you do it your audience will respond.

3. Sing Your Songs Often

One big mistake praise teams make is to constantly be doing new material. Again, for choirs this is much more acceptable and even preferred on some level. But effective praise and worship needs audience engagement and participation. That can only happen if you’re singing your praise and worship songs often enough so the audience becomes familiar with them, learns the words and begins to sing along. This is another reason why the best Praise And Worship songs are simple, repetitivesongs.

A new praise team obviously has to go through a period of learning a lot of new material in order to build up a catalog. But in general I’d recommend the average praise team be working off a list of no more than about 10 songs that they rotate through and repeat often. Doing this helps your audience develop a relationship with the songs. They’re more likely to participate and sing along to songs they know and hear often rather than new songs they’re not familiar with.

4. Be Authentic. Praise And Worship God From Your Heart, Every Song

It is an absolute must that every member on a praise team is completely immersed emotionally and spiritually in every song. If it’s an up-tempo praise song, everyone should be moving and clapping and praising God while you sing, and doing it from a very real place. If it’s a worship song, lift your hands, close your eyes, sing from your heart. The audience can always tell when it isn’t real. But when it is real, it’s contagious. If you’re choosing the right songs and approaching the ministry prayerfully and with a sincere heart, this will happen automatically.

5. Be Patient With The Congregation

As we said at the beginning of the article, many churches are just recently making the switch to using a praise team. None of us like to see old, familiar things replaced. Especially when we didn’t see anything wrong with the old way. As such, it is quite likely that even if you’re doing everything above to the letter, you simply won’t get much involvement or participation from the audience for a while. You must see that as normal and to be expected.

Whatever you do, do NOT scold, reprimand, guilt or otherwise try to force your audience to participate in praise and worship. You will undoubtedly get frustrated as you go forth every Sunday giving your best while the audience looks on, almost defiantly sometimes. The worst thing you can do, however, is lash out or say negative things in your efforts to get them going.

Instead, continue to simply choose great songs, perfect them to the best of your ability, sing them often and be sincere and real every time you get up. Never sing for the audience, because if you do, you’ll always be tied emotionally to what they’re doing or not doing. Sing your songs to the glory and honor of God. Sing your worship to Him. Sing your praises to Him. He will in turn work through you to reach your audience. Before long they’ll start standing, singing along, praising and worshiping God together with you. Just be consistent, be patient, and be Positive!

Did you find this article helpful? Find it and 12 more like it in my new e-book Praise Team 101.