Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Four Things to Do During the Week Before Leading Worship

Once the band is booked and set list is finalized, you might feel like you've done all your work to prepare for the weekend. You might have an hour set aside during the week to practice the songs, but if you want to lead an engaging, meaningful worship experience for your congregation you're going to have to do more.

The worship leaders' job is two fold; worship facilitator on stage, worship administrator behind the scenes. In order to be confident and effective as the worship facilitator on stage, you have to put in significant time and effort as the worship administrator behind the scenes. Here are four things I do during the week that help me be an effective worship facilitator for my congregation...

ONE :: print out the charts and take notes

Early in the week, I print out the charts and listen to each song - taking notes on dynamics, tricky transitions, timing and instrumentation. This step is the foundation to providing clear expectations for the band and vocalists. This step only takes 30 minutes, but gives me an opportunity to see the big picture and be able to communicate clearly before and at rehearsal. You may want to then sit down with your guitar or at a piano and go through everything to make any notes on changes you'd like to implement that will make the song different from the recording (i. e. ending the song after Chorus 2 at the 5 minute mark instead of going all Jesus Culture and doing the 13 minute version).

In this chart for "Like a Lion," I've marked up the song order on the right side and then written several "notes" throughout the song to help me communicate my expectations to the band members.

TWO :: email the band my expectations

Once I have taken the notes, it's time to transcribe them into paragraph form. I've determined the song order, transitions and dynamics as well as identified some parts of the songs that I think will be difficult. I then email those notes with instructions and warnings to the band so they can have some guidance in their personal preparation and practice.

Now here in the Planning Center email I sent to the entire band, you can see my notes for "Like a Lion" in paragraph form. I'll often use bullet points to help break things up by instrument as well, as I've done here.

THREE :: follow up and communication

Now that the band knows what I expect them to do in their preparation, I always try to bug them once or twice later in the week to make sure they are preparing. I'll text, email or call the band members (often depending on their track record of preparation) to make sure they remember to prepare and to give them an opportunity to ask questions to help them gain clarity on parts they're working on. Sometimes, a quick reminder can make the difference between someone showing up prepared and not prepared.

At the end of the day, it's my responsibility that the band members all be prepared. Sending them a text, email, Facebook message or whatever can take just a few seconds, but help remind someone to be working on the music.

FOUR :: prayer and spiritual prep

In order to lead the congregation on a spiritual journey through the worship set, the worship leader (and everyone on stage) must have had the experience on their own as well. I do this by reading through the lyrics and adopting some of the phrases as my personal prayers and then finding the biblical allusions within songs and reading through the passages that relate to them. Playing through the songs in my personal worship time also give me the opportunity to sense the "moments" I am about to lead the congregation through. There are highs and lows that being aware of will help me lead the congregation through them sensitively.

Solomon (Proverbs 4:23) and Jesus (Luke 6:45) taught us that whatever we put into our hearts and minds will be what flows out of our mouths. How valuable then can it be for us to digest the relevant scriptural truths that relate to the songs we lead?!?! Those passages and the hope contained in them will help us articulate the range of emotions from thankfulness to desperation within a worship experience.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Worship is an Overflow

For some time, I've believed that worship is an overflow. I'm convicted of this because of my experience - my relationship with God and my understanding of His work in my life. Some of my most meaningful moments of worship have directly correlated with what God has done in my heart. As a worship leader, my relationship with God and my understanding of His work in my life shape the worship experiences I create and lead. I make every effort to believe the words (and sing them with conviction) of the songs that I lead each weekend, but some of them are going to more clearly reveal an emotion I am feeling or a truth I am grasping.

I'm now believing something deeper and broader about that statement. There is nothing in my life that does not affect my worship. Everything; every thought I think, every song I listen to, every book I read, every image I see affects my heart and my mind and will eventually affect my worship. Jesus spoke to this idea...

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (1)
To be effective in my worship leading, I must be conscience of what affects me. I need to be intentional about filling my mind with things that honor God. Filling my mind with "good fruit" so that it naturally overflows from my heart.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (2)
Let our prayer be that God cleans us of unrighteousness as we surrender to Him and fill us with the love, hope and peace that we can only find in Jesus. And may His righteousness be the overflow of our hearts, allowing us to lead worship with contagious conviction because of the work He is performing within us.

(1) - Luke 6:44-45
(2) - Philipians 4:8 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hitting the "Reset" button on Song Selection

As worship leaders, it can be easy to get a head of your congregation. You're exposed to volumes of brand-new, quality worship material and can get caught up in the idea that they should know and experience the great truth and power of these songs as well. The problem with this is that we lose sight of our first calling... giving people an opportunity to worship and be changed by their God.

When I became the volunteer music director at my church in January of 2012 a few months after arriving, I noticed a big problem in song selection. In 2011, my church did over 200 unique worship songs. Think about that... In a 52 week period in which we did 6 songs per week, the repeat rate was just over 1.5. That means, the average song was only done once over the course of the year. How can we expect to build up the meaning and experience of these songs within the community when we don't even repeat them? The new songs weren't gaining enough traction to become meaningful and the older songs were the only thing that united the church; ultimately, making the new songs the scapegoat for disharmony and disjointedness. We decided that we needed to hit the reset button on our song selection and create a more intentional and effective song selection process.

With a new leadership team in place, we rallied around a brand new vision for song selection. We built a list of 45 songs that we felt were worth investing in in 2012 - songs that we wanted done at least 6 times in 2012. We drew from songs that had gained recent traction, mixed in a few classics that we saw value in and added brand new songs that we believed would be meaningful for years to come. We also made a provision that leaders could chose up to one well-known, older song not on the list (hymn, classic praise song) per set. No more one-and-done songs.

Here are the guidelines (straight from the email sent to the worship leaders) we built our list with...
  • Relevant - 80% of our songs should be less than 10 years old. I'd like to see the other 20% be a mix of hymns and slightly older praise songs.
  • Consistent - all of the songs should fit into a similar music style; Praise and Worship CCM. We're not doing grunge, gospel or Gaither. ;)
  • Personal -  the songs should be in first person and provide an opportunity for the congregation to sing praises or surrender directly to God.
  • Authenticity - the songs should include a variation of emotion that are inherent in the Christian experience and should speak to the human condition.
Each of the leaders created a list of about 30 songs that they felt met the criteria. I then compiled all of those lists into one document and found that we had about 70 that had been mentioned by two or more leaders on their list. That made narrowing them down easier. Since there was already some unity on those 70 songs, we got together in person and went through that list, eventually narrowing it down to about 45. It took humility, understanding and a lot of prayer, but we walked away with a list of songs and a purpose that united us as a team of leaders.

Since the list consisted of mostly new songs, we also took time to discuss how to effectively introduce new material and how to build up the congregations grasp of it. In the first couple of months, there were a handful of complaints that we were doing too many new songs, but it only took a couple months for those new songs to not only catch on, but become beloved. Since we made that change in our process, we have seen continued growth. 

Now that we are almost 9 months into this experiment, its exciting to look at the journey God had us on. Our congregation has grasped onto these songs and we have continued to move forward as a collective, congregation and worship team - singing these song in unity and for His Kingdom's glory.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

When Worship Leading Isn't Work

The last few times that I've led worship at my home church, where I volunteer as the Worship Music Director, something has really struck me; worship leading no longer feels like work. In my time spent as a worship pastor (and still, when I travel with [engage] ministries leading worship with students from the University I work at) worship leading was draining, because it was work. I always felt responsible for "carrying" the volunteers on stage. I spent hours putting together resources to make learning the songs easy for the band and vocalists each week, then at our organized band rehearsal I would spend most of the time instructing the team, reviewing parts and correcting mistakes.

Things aren't the same with the musicians at my home church now. The band members I work with once or twice a month at my new home church all listen to, learn and know the songs before we meet for rehearsal. They have a desire to not only play a part and be in the band, but to give their best as an offering of worship.

I'm inspired by it. I'm privileged to work with such awesome people and I'm not going to forget this experience. It's also taught me some valuable lessons.

First of all, those type of volunteers do exist! There is no reason to settle for a decent musician that half-heartedly prepares. The worship leader does not have to carry the band. Your commitment does not have to fill in the gaps for everyone else's lack-thereof. Set the bar for your band by being upfront about your expectations and let them make the decision on whether or not their willing to commit to it.

Secondly, the impact for the church body and congregation is more powerful. When everyone on the team takes the role of "worship leader" seriously, the congregation notices it and is moved by it. When the band is engaged in the act of worship using their instrument, rather than just playing their instrument, the congregation can tell that their is genuine worship happening in the hearts of musicians and that they are not on stage for their own glory or recognition, but rather to give something back to God.

Finally, worship becomes more meaningful for you as the leader. When you know that the band and vocalists have your back and you don't have to be concious of the other parts while you attempt to effectively fill your own role, you are able to let go, be in the presence of God and experience the Holy Spirit in a much more powerful way. When your mind is occupied by the nuts and bolts of music, timing, chemistry, song structure, etc..., you are distracted from the very act of worship that you are trying to model for your congregation. Eliminate that distraction and experience the freedom it brings.

I realize that these lessons aren't something that is plug and play. But, I want to encourage you to not settle for a band that you have to drag along behind you. Set your bar high - excellence attracts excellence and the right pieces will come along as God sees fit.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Leading Worship... from the Third Row

This weekend, I'm not on the schedule to play guitar or sing at my home church, but I'm already looking forward to leading worship. I haven't practiced at all, but I'm feeling very prepared. I'm ready to give God my praises and influence the people around me to do the same.

I'll be sitting in the third row of the congregation this weekend - hands raised and heart engaged. My hope is that I can leverage my visibility as a regular worship leader on stage to be able to influence and lead the congregation even while being off stage.

When I'm on stage, I see other worship leaders off stage. They're the ones clapping, singing and giving God His due glory. I see their influence echo throughout their small section of influence in the congregation and sometimes even reach to the far edges of the auditorium. It's much easier to join in and be a little "undignified" in your worship, when there is someone next to you or in front of you leading the way.

Join me this weekend in leading worship, because God deserves it. Engage Him with your voices and hearts and be an influence for those around you to be like King David, worshiping God at the risk of being undignified.

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's been awhile...

I left my position at New Hope about 4 months ago and haven't blogged since while getting settled into my new home and community. My wife and I accepted jobs at Southern Adventist University, the institution we met at and the community we loved living in.

I'm still leading worship. In fact, it's still a part of my job. I lead a team of students that travels throughout the Southeast doing programming for youth events and worship gatherings. It's a way for SAU to get it's name out without all of the "sales-pitch" feel of conventional recruiting.

I've also just accepted a volunteer position at Hamilton Community Church - a church I interned at while I was a student here - as the music director. I am leading worship once a month and overseeing the other worship leaders at Hamilton.

It's been incredible to see how God leads. Last summer we felt anxious and had a feeling that God was going to do something in our lives, but had no idea what was in store. He has blessed us and allowed us to transition into jobs that make us each happier and we live in a community with many friends and family. We still don't pretend to understand the scope of ministry that God has for us here in Collegedale, TN, but we are sure that He is using us and we're moving forward.

I look forward to posting more worship insights in this new setting as God continues to teach me what it means to honor Him with my life, my abilities and my heart.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


Dearest New Hope Family and Friends,

This very week two years ago I began serving as the Pastor of Worship at New Hope. What an adventure the last two years has been! I have made so many friends and valuable personal connections as a part of this church family and I will never forget my wonderful experience here.

I appreciate the trust that you have placed in me in my time here. One of my very first assignments was to oversee a complete stage and audio system makeover – which must have taken a lot of trust! Furthermore, you’ve trusted me as I’ve led worship at New Hope, going alongside me to the throne of God week after week. It’s humbling to be a part of something so great. What greater experience is there than to be at the feet of the God of the universe, giving Him honor and praise?

As I leave, I do so with the certainty that New Hope knows how to worship. Within this community, the act of corporate worship flourishes. I know this because each week I have looked out into a congregation and seen engaged hearts and minds, passionate about God. The passion I see at New Hope is not inspired by a worship leader or worship pastor, but by a holy and righteous God alone.

Continue to look to Him for your inspiration and He will continue to be faithful. Continue to seek His kingdom and He will make you righteous. Continue to do justly and your worship will not be in vain. God sees you, New Hope and He has a vision to prosper you, not to harm you. His plans include a hope-filled future, so seek after Him and His plans with all your heart and He will faithfully lead.

With much love and appreciation,

Rick Anderson

*printed in the bulletin at New Hope Adventist Church on September 3, 2011.