So much of worship ministry training these days is philosophical or theoretical but as a practitioner I tend to gravitate towards the practical applications. What I’ve found through both success and failure is if we make sure the foundational principles are in place we avoid the shallowness and structural weaknesses of many typical worship ministries. The following ten ideas are the pillars that have been critical to building a life-giving organization and creating an atmosphere of freedom and simplicity where people can genuinely enjoy God. These are values and principles that I continually communicate to everyone who join our team. I know that if they get this philosophy down deep in their hearts, they will never have to struggle with many of the common problems in local church worship ministries.
1. The senior pastor is the worship leader.
The senior pastor leads the church by example in worship. As the one who has been given the spiritual authority to lead the local church, the senior pastor indirectly, or sometimes directly, communicates the vision and direction for everything from style to a theology of worship. Not only do people look to their senior pastor for the vision of the church, they also look at him during services to see his vision for worship. This is why I appreciate Pastor Ted so much. When people see him lifting his hands, kneeling on the floor or dancing before the Lord, my job of leading becomes easy.
2. The worship ministry should be a team.
Because I don’t play well enough to lead from the piano or with a guitar, I used to feel inferior to other worship leaders until I saw the hidden lesson. Forced to rely on others early in my ministry, I realized something that sometimes takes years to learn: I can’t do this by myself. Some worship leaders rely on their own talent so heavily that they miss out on the joy of team building. Others are insecure in their gifts and control everything to maintain their significance. Either way, the blessing of unity and the power of vulnerability are never realized. This team mentality requires everyone to give up their rights as individuals for the good of the whole. We surrender ourselves to bigger goals and objectives, fulfilling different roles, and allowing God to use us as one. Of course, this means that we have no tolerance for hot shots or prima donnas. Each serves the other in humility, and together we accomplish more that we ever could on our own.
3. Leading worship requires a clean heart and good skill.
Pure hearts are essential to successfully leading others into the life of God. Because worship is a heart connection with God, as leaders we must model transparency and vulnerability when we engage in worship. But our God-given abilities are also important and music, just like preaching or plumbing, has an element of skillfulness that either increases or decreases our effectiveness. Psalm 33:3 encourages us to be skillful, and the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 illustrates that we are responsible to cultivate the gifts and talents we have received. Some have the heart of worship without skill and others have skill and no anointing, but when we lead worship we want both. We want our teams to be like David in Psalm 78:72; “with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
4. We must speak the truth in love.
At New Life, our basis for auditions and the team mentality is Ephesians 4:15, which reads, “…Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Mature relationships require the truth. Most of the time we have the “syrupy” love with no truth, or brutal truth without love. In worship ministry, as in all ministries, we must have it both ways-truth and love. You’ve heard the saying, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” If we can embrace this idea on our worship teams we open the door for authentic relationships and genuine discipleship. If the team has the courage to shoot straight with each other, and if we, as leaders, demonstrate a willingness to invest in them, trust is earned and permission is granted to receive correction and instruction in love, so that we all grow together.
5. Evaluations are essential.
The problem with letting others evaluate us is that it can lead to comparison, insecurity, fear and shame. This is why most churches have difficulty implementing an evaluation process for their worship ministry such as an audition. But worship is a high and holy calling and so prayerful consideration should be given to deciding who does and does not lead worship. Evaluating people’s gifts and hearts is not easy, but when we commit to it we find that it causes people to place a higher value on their participation in the ministry. It encourages them to make a higher quality commitment, and it forces them to face their fears and overcome their tendency toward comparison and shame. I always say, “There is no shame in being at a different level of skill than someone else, its just part of life. Find your significance in Christ and realize that there will always be someone better than you.” Your evaluations don’t have to be fancy. It might just be taking a person out for coffee and finding out a little about their life and calling, but whatever form it takes evaluations are essential for bringing order and clarity to the worship ministry.
6. Music is just the tool.
Music is not the purpose of the praise and worship ministry. Christmas celebrations don’t drive us and Easter services are only an opportunity for more worship. All the songs and special presentations are simply tools for worship. It’s easy to get so bogged down in all the work of rehearsals and preparation and planning that we lose sight of the higher purpose. Our rehearsals are important because the when we are rehearsed, we become better facilitators of worship. We work hard to learn the music so we can internalize the message and be free to embrace the bigger picture of what we do. Good music by itself can’t do anything eternal for us, but music under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit has the power to change us every time.
7. We are musical servants.
Musicians can become easily sidetracked when they concentrate too much on performance, talent or personal recognition. Our attitudes need to be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who laid down his rights to become a servant for all humankind (Phil. 2:5-11 and Mt. 20:28). As musical servants to the Body of believers, we must give up our rights, our agendas and our preferences so we can concentrate on the Lord’s purposes. We serve the people in our congregations and we stay aware of their needs and desires. We don’t serve our egos by singing and playing our instruments to be seen by others. Instead, we give our lives to serve them.
8. We are all worship leaders.
The choir is not the background for the leader. The band does not just accompany the person in front. There are no “back-up singers.” We are all worship leaders, and as leaders we have the responsibility to live worship daily and be prepared both musically and spiritually. When we stand before the congregation, we are the instruments of the Holy Spirit to motivate and facilitate the expression of worship. This means that none of us can be passive in leading worship. We can’t simply sing and play and hope that the church will join in. We have to actively engage God and connect with the congregation, leading people into grateful, humble, and desperate worship. A lot of teams just play and sing along with the leader, but we want our musicians and singers to know they are responsible for leading that service. This empowers them to ‘own’ their ministry rather than function as mere participants with the worship leader.
9. We don’t confuse who we are with what we do.
Musicians are strange! We are sensitive, emotional and creative personalities, who wear our feelings on our sleeves. Music is such a deep expression of who we are that we often begin to draw our significance from it. But of course, this leads to pride and insecurity. It is essential then, to understand who we are as children of God created in His image, as the righteousness of God in Christ, and as citizens of heaven. However, what we do is just as important as who we are-that’s why the Bible is so thick. Our gifts and talents belong to God and are simply what we do in the church. We should never rely on them to give us worth or use them for prestige or applause. If we are able to separate our person from our performance, we can allow others to speak into our lives, and give them permission to disciple us and receive training to increase our skill as musicians. Without this principle, we become controlling, resistant, and proud, or we move in the other direction and become too timid or threatened to try. If we submit our gifts and talents to the Lord and find our significance in Him, then we’ll stay humble and be more effective for the kingdom of God.
10. Enjoying God is our purpose.
Church should be more fun! I think we should be full of smiles and laughter as we gather. I’m convinced many people have difficulty enjoying church simply because they take themselves too seriously. “Doing church” should not be our goal when we come together. Instead, we should simply enjoy being with God and with other believers. Psalm 16:11 says, “In His presence is fullness of joy, at His right hand are pleasures evermore.” Enjoying God is the key to enjoying church. We don’t always have to be happy, but we should always enjoy the power and pleasure of worshipping God within the community of believers.
These ten pillars will make life easier as we build a house of worship that God will be pleased to dwell in.