Planning Center Services is the most powerful software for keeping your worship ministry organized. Here are six reasons why you should be using this app.
If you are in ministry, you are serving in one of these capacities:
Regardless of which of these you are, you likely don’t have someone holding your hand and keeping you accountable to a schedule. So how do you decide what is the best use of your time in your role?
No matter how much time we pour into our ministry, the time we have on this earth is given to us by God and we should steward it well.
The man who invited me into both my first role as a worship leader and my first full-time role into ministry shared with me a lot about this subject of time management. There’s a diagram he shared with me that’s a part of the Google Toolkit we are sharing with you later on that really helped me get a tangible grasp on the big picture of time management.
1. INVEST IN PLANNING
This time investment has shown to have the greatest return for me.
I spend a few minutes at the beginning of each day to look at my schedule for that day. Afterwards, I take care of any emergency emails or small daily tasks (like updating my hours, cleaning my office, etc.)
On my first day of the work week, I’ll spend more like 20-30 minutes planning my entire week. If I know that I’m scheduling or have a big project to do, I’ll make sure to put that in my calendar.
Each year, I encourage you to spend a day with your team looking at the entire year. Consider school events, big church events, and community events. Take note of when you’ll have to start planning for these events, and put a date on your calendar as a reminder to start planning for these things. Easter and Christmas seem to creep up on people every year - but they happen each year at the same time.
If you struggle with taking care of your responsibilities or easily let other less important projects take over, consider sharing your calendar with your boss, co-worker, or spouse to keep you accountable to your schedule.
CALENDARING TIP: Figure out how long tasks actually take you. When you need to make room for something else, don't just shorten another task to make room for other things - you'll need that entire hour or whatever it is.
2. INVEST IN YOURSELF
This one is difficult. You don’t want to come across as selfish, and if you’re in ministry you probably have a heart for serving - this is great, but it’s hard to invest in yourself because you probably want to spend all your time serving others.
Investing in yourself will result in being able to serve others better.
The better you know how to play your instrument, use ProPresenter, or understand scripture, the better you’ll be able to serve others with these new or sharpened skills.
Here are few quotes from ministry leaders that have poured into me have been great reminders;
“Leaders are readers”
“Leaders learn about themselves”
“Growth comes from self-awareness”
Growing yourself will take up time in your schedule, but is certainly worth it. Just a few examples of ways to invest in yourself are;
Joining worship leader facebook groups
Taking another worship leader in your area out for coffee/lunch
3. INVEST IN VOLUNTEERS
The church is a volunteer run organization. If this isn’t the case at your church, you probably want to look into that.
Volunteers need to be well-resourced, well-informed, feel important, and have fun.
You will not be on this earth or in your role forever; one of your goals should be to help the next person in your role be successful. This means investing in potential leaders, and giving responsibility to those who have shown an interest and the ability to do so successfully.
Create and sustain relationships with your volunteers. You don’t have to be their best friend, but you do need to be worthy of their trust and be someone they can count on, and they will want to be someone you can count on.
If you’re an introvert, you aren’t cut from these responsibilities - but when you need your alone time, you can still invest in volunteers by resourcing them well; make sure your song arrangements are what you’d like them to be, songs are transposed to the key you’ll be playing in so they can play along, and provide playthrough videos for specific or difficult parts.
4. STANDARD FILE CREATION
This takes a lot of prep work, but week to week will be a big time-saver. Here are just a few examples of things that can fall under this category;
Whatever it is, if you have a system down and you can quickly duplicate or automate your work each week you will have much more time each week.
You don’t have to be a master of all these things - there are so many resources available with the internet. Here are a few resources I’ve found helpful;
Churchfront Ableton toolkit
That Worship Sound Worship Essential mainstage package
Alex Strabala’s Helix presets
I have tweaked all of these to fit my needs, but having 90% of the work done by people who put endless hours into their products and know their craft is definitely a time-saver.
Another benefit to this is that when your system is nearly automatable and well documented, it can easily be handed to a responsible volunteer.
5. SAYING NO
One of the obvious but profound things I’ve been taught is this:
“saying yes to one thing means saying no to something else”
MIND BLOWN - You mean we don’t have endless amounts of time? I somehow thought that the more I said yes to, the better of a job I was doing by getting “a lot done”. But I let urgent things become the most important things, and therefore wasn’t making traction on my goals, or accomplishing my mission.
Another thing I’ve struggled with is being able to say “this doesn’t have to be perfect”.
If you are spending hours tweaking a backtrack, keyboard sound, or graphic while musicians or tech people are struggling with things, then you need to take a step back and prioritize.
6. GOOD EQUIPMENT
I once thought that I could save money by dealing with free or cheaper products. Here’s an example;
I was using a PDF chart viewer on my iPad. I still had to print charts for everyone else on the team, and every time I made a change to the chart I had to update OnSong and update the printed charts. When I switched to PCO Music Stand, it was a monetary investment - but at $2.50 a week, it’s a bigger return on the investment (if you’re on staff and make more than $2.50/hr)
If a soundboard, lighting board, computer, etc is constantly needing repair, then it is both costing money and time. This is another time to step back and think if the repair time is worth the money being saved. We are often put in position to steward God’s money. This is a big responsibility, not to be taken lightly - and while there are definitely products that are too luxurious for our needs, there are also insufficient products that money shouldn’t be spent on in the first place.
I hope these tips help you save time and increase your ministry effectiveness. Because I care about you, your time, and your ministry, I’ve put together this Organization Toolkit available through Churchfront. It includes;
hours tracking sheet
preaching calendar sheet
song planning sheet
In this article, you’ll learn how to build a quality worship song library in an efficient way that will save you hours of worship prep down the road.
As I begin my worship ministry at Mission Lakewood church, I have the opportunity to start from scratch with my worship song library. As you can see here, my Planning Center account library is completely empty.
An organized and accurate song library has two primary benefits.
Weekly worship planning time is drastically reduced.
My band will always have the best resources for practice and rehearsal.
Once the ministry and church is up and running, I do not want to spend hours every week creating new charts, tracks, lyric slides, etc. I much rather spend a few days batch processing these things ahead of time and creating an uber-organized workflow that will save me hours (even days) of prep down the road.
In the rest of this articler, I want to give you a broad overview of what I’m doing to build our worship song library from scratch.
In order for a song to be adequately prepared for the library, it needs the following 5 things.
An accurate chord chart created in Planning Center’s lyrics and chord editor
Attached MP3 of the songs original key and arrangement
ProPresenter document containing lyric slides
Ableton Live multitrack project
Attached MP3 of the custom key and arrangement with click and cues
The grunt work in this process will consist of preparing those elements. But once it’s done the first time, I’ll never have to do it again. My weekly planning will consist of a few seconds of adding the song to my Planning Center Plan, ProPresenter playlist, and Ableton Live set list.
Is doing all this prep work fun? Of course not! But the reward of having amazing resources for my band and a bunch of saved time down the road is worth it.
Here are the tools I need to get the job done.
Laptop - I’ve got my overpriced 15” MacBook Pro.
External Hard Drive - I store all of my Ableton Live media on a dedicated hard drive, keeping it organized and independent of any one laptop.
Planning Center Services App - This software is the hub where I store all of my songs and music resources like charts and mp3 files.
ProPresenter - For a lone worship leader with no production staff, worship prep is not done until lyric slides are made for all songs. I’m going to include lyric creation in ProPresenter as part of this process.
Dropbox - While ProPresenter has cloud capability, I prefer using Dropbox to store and sync ProPresenter documents across multiple machines.
Ableton Live - This is the software I use to prep tracks and ProPresenter cues.
Now I want to take you through my process of adequately preparing a song for my worship library. Since this article is a broad overview of the process, I don’t have time to get into the nitty gritty of each of these steps. I’ve already made detailed tutorials on most of what I’m going to covered. Click the links for detailed instructions.
Step 1 - Add the song to Planning Center
Find the song you want and add it to the Planning Center library. Planning Center automatically links the song to CCLI, which keeps track of reporting for licensing purposes. Include any other details you would like about the song for categorization. I usually import lyrics from CCLI but not the chord charts. CCLI chord charts are garbage.
Step 2 - Buy the original song MP3
Purchase the original arrangement of the song in Apple Music or any other online music store. Once the song is downloaded, create an MP3 version of the song. This creates a smaller file size that is easier for sharing. Upload the file to Planning Center as a default arrangement attachment. Please note this is only legal if you church subscribes to the CCLI Rehearsal License.
Step 3 - Make a Chord Chart
Create the most amazing chord chart in the world using Planning Center’s lyrics and chord editor. I prefer creating my own charts. I will sometimes use CCLI’s chord chart as a starting point so I don’t have to do it all completely by ear. A quicker way to do it is purchase the chord chart from PraiseCharts.com. I recommend using the Chord Pro format. Copy the Chord Pro text from PraiseCharts and paste it into Planning Center. Then make sure the formatting is perfect.
Check out my detailed tutorial on creating worship charts in Planning Center.
Step 4 - Create lyrics
Create a ProPresenter document for the song lyrics. Import the song into ProPresenter directly from the CCLI search integration. Leverage templates to save you time creating new documents consistent with your style. I prefer two lines of text on each slide. I also label all the sections of the songs. My master arrangement of the song in ProPresenter is what I sync with Ableton Live. You’ll notice in ProPresenter, I do not repeat sections of the song like the chorus. Automating ProPresenter gives me the ability to skip around to the right slides. I also create an arrangement of the song if the need arises for manual operation.
Step 5 - Prepare multitracks
Create the Ableton Live project for the song. Using LoopCommunity.com or Multitracks.com, purchase and download tracks. Optimize the Ableton Live session file so that all you need to do is drag and drop it into future setlists. I also prefer creating my lyric cues for a song in this step. Once it is done once, I don’t ever have to worry about it again.
Check out my detailed tutorial on creating a Multitracks session for Ableton Live.
Step 6 - Create a custom MP3 file
Export and upload the MP3 file of the Ableton Live session containing the click and and cues and proper key. Upload the file to the proper key attachment in Planning Center.
I know that sounds like a lot of work, but once these six steps are complete, the song is adequately prepared for the library. As I already mentioned, the weekly prep will merely consist of dragging and dropping. I want most of my weekly prep time to be spent on picking the right songs from the library and working on other creative service elements, not creating charts, lyric documents, and tracks. I hope this overview of how I build my worship library gives you some ideas for building your own in an efficient and time-saving manner.
If you are building a new worship ministry or if you’re looking to improve an existing one, check out my free guide, The Ultimate Worship Ministry Toolkit. This ever-evolving and improving document is a spreadsheet that acts as your quick reference to all the worship leading tools I refer to in posts like this one and many others on Churchfront.com. It can be overwhelming trying to find the right software and gear for your ministry. This guide will quickly point you in the right direction.
In this guide, you will learn a simple worship planning strategy for Advent and Christmas.
First, I will unpack the meaning of Advent and Christmas from a theological standpoint. A lot of worship leaders miss the critical step of identifying the role these seasons play in the Gospel narrative. Understanding their theological meaning will make it way easier to plan services and pick songs during December.
The second portion of the guide contains my list of recommended worship albums and songs to aid you in the song selection process. New Christmas albums are released every year. This guide will help you stay up to date with the latest Christmas worship songs that are non-cheesy and easy for your congregation to sing.
It’s not Christmas time. It’s Advent.
Once Thanksgiving is over, western culture kicks into Christmas mode. Even in my own family, it’s a tradition to watch It’s A Wonderful Life after our Thanksgiving feast, and it becomes acceptable to listen to Christmas music.
All throughout December, businesses bombard us with advertisements for Christmas sales, Christmas movies, Christmas cookies, and Christmas parties.
The problem is it’s not Christmas yet.
Christmas does not start until December 25, and it lasts 12 days until Epiphany. That’s why we have the song, The Twelve Days of Christmas. Instead, the actual beginning of Christmas feels like the end of Christmas. December 26 comes, and the decorations go.
The major downside of going straight from Thanksgiving to Christmas in the context of worship is we miss out on the season of Advent.
Advent begins four Sundays prior to Christmas and is more than just a pre-game to Christmas. It’s tone and nature is significantly different. The word Advent comes from the Latin word, adventus, which translates coming or arrival. It’s a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. It anticipates both his coming as a baby as well as his second coming in the final days when God fully establishes his kingdom on earth.
A season of preparation, repentance, and hope.
When someone or something important is about to enter into your life, there is a lot of preparation work you need to be done. My wife and I are expecting twin babies in January. We are in the midst of the crazy amount of preparation work that needs to be done before the babies arrive. There’s a lot of practical prep work like getting the baby room ready. There’s also a lot of work we need to do on preparing our hearts and mindset. We are trying to figure out how we will care for two fragile little lives as well as maintain a healthy marriage. We will never be completely prepared for the arrival of our twins, but there are a lot of smart things we are trying to accomplish now to start the parenting thing off on the right foot.
Advent reminds us of the prep work needed in our hearts so God can truly be king of our lives. It does not take long examining ourselves to realize how much we have fallen short.
If Jesus were coming back on Christmas Day, how would your life look different between now and then? What type of prep work would you want to do?
I would probably be a lot more intentional at loving my neighbor and loving God, knowing that those two things are of highest priority in the kingdom of God. I would probably spend less time watching Stranger Things and Youtube and go knocking on doors in my neighborhood to tell people about Jesus.
Basically, I would do things I already know I should be doing but don’t because I feel no urgency or conviction about my current condition.
Advent is a season of repentance.
It’s an invitation to turn from our sinful desires and refocus our hearts on the kingdom of God. Advent is also a season of anticipation and hope. We are soon going to celebrate the birth of Christ at Christmas.
The King is born. The reign of God has commenced. But when we look around at the world, we know that God’s reign is far from being fully consummated in this broken place.
Our world is full of tragedy, evil, and pain. Every time we hear about natural disasters, mass shootings, wars, disease, and genocide, alongside our grief, we have hope that someday Jesus’ second coming will put an end to it all. That’s what Advent is all about: preparation, repentance, and hope.
The tone of Advent is significantly different from the happy, cheerful, celebratory mood of Christmas. It makes little sense to sing our traditional Christmas carols or even the spiced up ones by Tomlin and Baloche during the season of Advent. The message of most of those carols is too early. They skip the part of the story, our story, when we have to examine ourselves, prepare our hearts, and hope for the coming of Christ.
You do not need to eliminate all Christmas songs from your repertoire before December 25. You most likely are not in a church that observes the church calendar.
Advent in your context is pre-game for Christmas. That’s okay. What you can and should do is tailor your song selection during Advent to hit on themes of preparation, repentance, and hope in Christ’s coming. You will find this will give your worship planning in December a lot more intentionality and purpose. Not every song you play needs to be a Christmas carol. There are plenty of non-Christmas worship songs that touch on these themes and would be appropriate for Advent.
Identify opportunities in worship to explain the meaning of Advent to your congregation. For example, you can say,
“In a few weeks, we will be celebrating Christ’s coming. There’s a lot to celebrate and be joyful about His first coming as a baby in a manger. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have hope for a future beyond death. We have hope that God will renew this broken world. Christ will come again and completely eradicate evil, sorrow, and tragedy. But as we look forward to Christ’s birth and his second coming, we need to do some prep work to our hearts. We often desire things that are not compatible with God’s kingdom. We need his Spirit to reshape and aim our hearts back toward God. As we sing songs celebrating Christ’s coming, we will also sing songs in which we cry out to God in repentance and acknowledge our need for Him.”
Then you could sing a song like Lord I Need You by Matt Maher or Kyrie Eleison by Chris Tomlin.
Okay, now it’s Christmas time.
You probably do not need much explanation around the meaning of Christmas. If you take anything away from this guide, I hope it is a better understanding of Advent. But Christmas is still a big deal.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day we celebrate the incarnation. God became man. The Word became flesh (John 1). The incarnation is the starting point for understanding the identity of Jesus. It sets the stage for comprehending the significance of his life, death, and resurrection. Christmas historically has always been a joyful celebration, so do not be afraid to pull out all the stops and have a high energy service.
There will be a whole lot of visitors at your church. Make sure there is a clear invitation to salvation in Jesus. Our culture cannot quite get past the instinct to go to church on Christmas Eve. Don’t squander this evangelistic opportunity. As a worship leader, pick songs that tell the Christmas story and connect that story to the cross and the empty tomb.
As for Christmas song ideas, I would recommend sticking to mostly traditional carols that your church and visitors will know. Use fresh arrangements of these traditional carols found in my song selection guide. Make sure the arrangements do not stray too far from the original tune, or else that could just confuse people trying to sing along.
If you introduce a new Christmas song that isn't based on a traditional carol, I recommend introducing that song in Advent, so your congregation is ready to sing it on Christmas Eve. Also, make sure songs are in a singable key for your congregation. Finally, make sure your songs are playable for your band.
By now you have a better understanding of the theological meaning and significance of Advent and Christmas and hopefully you have a more robust framework for picking worship songs for the month of December.
I’ve compiled my recommended songs and albums into a free PDF download. This will save you hours of research trying to find the right songs for Advent and Christmas. This guide also includes links to the songs’ chord charts and multitrack sessions. You can access the guide by clicking the button below, completing the form and it will be sent to your email inbox.
The worship leader's guide to advent and christmas songs
This article is a brief review of the song “Reckless Love” by Cory Asbury. It has become increasingly popular in churches over the past few months in late 2017 into early 2018. It has also raised a lot of questions regarding the word “Reckless” in describing God’s love. I’ll unpack why fussing about this word choice is making a mountain out of a molehill (something religious people are experts at accomplishing).
Most of my articles are not polarizing, but I feel strongly about this topic. As a worship leader, I’ve dealt first hand with people who think they are being theologically discerning about lyrics in worship songs. They put up a stink to pastoral leadership until the song in question goes away. I try to avoid these churches like the plague.
I also do not like to flash letters after my name, especially since I think higher education is becoming a joke. But I do have a Master of Divinity from Denver Seminary. It’s a well-respected, conservative, evangelical school. So I’m not some lone liberal blogger spouting uninformed theological opinions. I’ve read a lot of books, written a lot of papers on the Bible and theology that grant me at least a bit of authority in this area.
Okay, now for the song review and worship leading tips.
I heard the song for the first time in the summer of 2017 when playing bass for the Red Rocks Young Adults service. Kory Miller, our worship leader, picked the song and I’m so glad he introduced it to us. It wasn’t even officially released yet. I think someone pirated it off of Bethel TV and uploaded it to Youtube.
It turns out, the song is a hit, and they released the single for it not long ago. I think this is going to be a standard in many worship sets for a few years to come.
The meaning of the song is straightforward.
Verse 1 highlights that God created us and gives us life. Verse 2 focus on how God redeems us--despite the fact we were his enemies and rebellious in our sinfulness. God is good. God is kind. These verses are simple, but I love how Cory crafted these lyrics. “When I was your foe, still your love fought for me.” “When I felt no worth, You paid it all for me.”
The bridge continues to emphasize the theme of God’s love using the word reckless. It paints the picture of God pursuing his children like Liam Neeson in Taken who goes to the most extreme measures to rescue his daughter and kill the bad guys.
Is God’s Love Reckless?
The chorus focuses on how incredible it is that God loves us and pursues us. The term “Reckless” has gotten a lot of attention. As usual, when a gifted songwriter uses a bit of language that is not typical, all of the Pharisees in the church come out of the woodwork and make a loud fuss. If you disagree with the use of the word “Reckless” and feel offended by that last sentence, please check out this cool app.
In all seriousness, there are a few reasons why I have no issue with the term “Reckless” in describing God’s love.
The definition - (of a person or their actions) without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action. While in most contexts this song has negative connotations (reckless driving) the word reckless itself does not necessarily carry negative connotations on its own.
Word meaning changes and evolves - It’s common for words and associated connotations to change and evolve overtime. Maybe it wouldn’t have been appropriate to use “reckless” to describe God’s love a decade or two ago, but words and their associated connotations are adaptable to their time and culture.
Biblical support - Cory wrote this song with the parables in Luke 15 in mind. Do you know how “reckless” it was for the Father to receive the Prodigal Son back into his house! He did not care about the consequences of what other people thought of this act of love. Same thing with the parable of the lost sheep. Why would a shepherd not care about the safety of the 99 to go find the one? Oh, and another example of biblical support is 1 Corinthians 1:18, where a guy named Paul writes the message of the cross is “foolishness” to the world. You know what word is similar to “foolishness”? Reckless.
I honestly cannot believe I just wasted 10 minutes of my time needing to argue why reckless is an okay description of God’s love in this context. I think if more Christians were more distressed about reaching their lost neighbors with the gospel of Jesus instead of putting up a fuss about songs like this, the world would be a much better placed with more saved people.
But nope. We still battle our pharisaical and religious tendencies.
Obviously, you know how I feel about this song. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t spend time reviewing it. If you feel offended that Cory used the word “reckless” to describe God’s love, go read your Bible--and more specifically, Luke 15.
Also, read what Cory wrote about this on his Facebook page. Here is an excerpt from what he said:
"When I use the phrase, “the reckless love of God”, I’m not saying that God Himself is reckless. I am, however, saying that the way He loves, is in many regards, quite so. What I mean is this: He is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of His actions with regards to His own safety, comfort, and well-being. His love isn’t crafty or slick. It’s not cunning or shrewd. In fact, all things considered, it’s quite childlike, and might I even suggest, sometimes downright ridiculous. His love bankrupted heaven for you. His love doesn’t consider Himself first. His love isn’t selfish or self-serving. He doesn’t wonder what He’ll gain or lose by putting Himself out there. He simply gives Himself away on the off-chance that one of us might look back at Him and offer ourselves in return."
I don’t know about you but the fact that the God of the universe cares about me, loves me and is willing to give up his Son for me, that’s pretty darn reckless. People will complain about it--especially in a church full of baby boomers wanting hymns. To help ward off potential conflict, make sure you introduce this song and give “reckless” a bit of context. Maybe even reference the three parables in Luke 15!
I've created a free guide for worship leaders called 25 things to say or pray in worship. In the guide, I include a script for what I would say to introduce the song, Reckless Love to my congregation. You can download the guide by clicking the button below.
Tips for leading
Musically, this song is a winner. It’s catchy and singable for any congregation. It’s a 6/8 Bethel ballad, so it will make even the Grinch’s heart grow 10x larger. Seriously, I get choked up when I sing it. I also love the instrumentals in this song when the lead part is syncopated over the rest of the band. In my opinion, Bethel is the most innovate group in worship songwriting right now. Not only lyrically, but musically.
If you want to lead the song so it is comfortable for both men and women to sing the melody, then I recommend singing it in the key of D. You’ll be playing the progression Bm, A, G, D. It won’t sound as sexy as the recording in the key of F#, but on Sunday mornings you’re not trying to sell records. You want people to actually sing.
The only other musical tip I have for this song is to make sure your keyboardist or electric guitar player knows the lead part in the instrumentals. If that isn't doable, you could also just sing it with “oh’s.” But do make sure you have it in there because it’s awesome.
What are your thoughts and opinions on this song? Let me know in the comments!
AUTHORS UPDATE (02/12/18)
What was just a simple blog post I threw together in about 15 minutes a few months ago has turned into a firestorm below in the comments. Feel free to share you opinions on the song (it helps Google rankings of this post) but please know I will most likely not engage in a conversation. Don't take it personally. I just don't have the time or interest. The reactions to this post remind me why I do not write a Christian opinion blog. While you are free to add your 2 cents to the comments below, I'd encourage you to do something more worth your time than trying to convince others on the opposing side of this argument.
AUTHORS UPDATE (3/16/2018)
Over 14,000 people have viewed this blog post over the past 30 days. It continues to fascinate me how much curiosity and controversy this song (and this blog post) have sparked. For me personally, this has now become an interesting experiment to see how nasty Christians can be in the comments section.
Yes, I was polarizing when writing this post. You will either hate me or love me for it. Yes, I used the word “Pharisee” to describe people who question the intent of this song and the writer’s heart. Was it politically correct or me to do this? Probably not. But honestly, the outrage I see in the comments section of this post kinda proves my point.
When looking at scripture, you know who got really angry about the reckless nature of God’s love? The Pharisees. You know who thought Jesus was reckless for hanging out with sinners, samaritans, lepers, and women? The Pharisees. You know who got the most angry and offended in theological debates? The Pharisees. You know who got caught up in the minutiae of doctrine and religion? The Pharisees. You know who got the most offended by the message of the Gospel? The Pharisees.
There are valid arguments against the use of reckless to describe God’s love. Some folks have left some very thoughtful counter-arguments below and I am grateful. The internet is a place for free discussion, which I why I haven’t deleted any comments or disabled comments, even when people make a personal attack on my character and calling.
While I’m sorry for causing any discord among Christians by writing the blog post above, I am not sorry for calling out Pharisaical tendencies within the church.
Finally, I only expect this update to make some people more angry, pouring only more gasoline on the fire. That’s why I don’t spend time arguing below in the comments. The arguing will never end on such a divisive topic.
But go ahead. Leave your 5 page essay down below on why I am wrong, Cory is wrong, and everyone who sings this song is going to hell. It’s gonna accomplish so much in the greater scheme of things (said in a very sarcastic tone.)
The only thing it’s actually going to accomplish is prove the point that Christians are better at arguing over the dumbest issues rather than reaching the lost and making disciples.
Have you ever considered the difference between a worship leader and a worship pastor? These two titles are often thrown around in the church without much explanation as to what they mean. I’ve been in worship ministry for ten years. I’m not too sure I know the difference.
I use both terms to describe to people what I do. I’ve noticed church job boards listing both titles. Some churches want a worship leader. Other churches want a worship pastor. I have a lot of friends who work in worship ministry. Some have the official title of worship leader. Some have the title of worship pastor. What’s the difference?
Let’s consider the word, “pastor.” Some churches reserve the title pastor for those who are ordained. Other churches reserve the title for those who are dudes. Some churches reserve the title for those on the executive leadership teams. Finally, some churches reserve the title for those who preach sermons, marry people, bury people, and counsel people.
In most cases, qualifications for leading worship do not overlap with the common criteria for being labeled a pastor. Therefore, out of prudence and respect for the title “pastor,” a lot of churches use the term worship leader to refer to the guy or gal leading songs on Sunday morning. It’s understandable.
Formal titles in an organization are a convenient way to organize the pecking order and know where responsibility falls, especially the important responsibility of pastoring. With this line of reasoning, there are some cases when someone would be called a worship pastor. They are ordained, they are a senior leader, and they have other “pastoral” roles along with leading worship.
Now let’s consider the word, “leader.” John Maxwell define’s leadership as the ability to influence others. The title is used in a whole lot of contexts. There are business leaders, ring leaders, cheerleaders, political leaders, and group leaders. You get the point.
Leaders are people who influence others and guide them toward an end goal. It makes sense the word, “leader” is used to define the men and women who lead worship. They influence their band to play as a cohesive ensemble to produce great music. They influence their congregation to worship God. “Leader” is an appropriate title for this role.
But there is a problem with this title dichotomy of worship leader vs. worship pastor. Too often, worship leaders think they are off the hook for pastoral responsibilities in the church.
They merely need to pick songs, rehearse songs, and lead songs on Sunday morning. The ability to coordinate a high-end production experience is also a plus. Leave the soul-shaping pastoral duties to the guy who lectures for 30 minutes.
We wonder why worship leaders in the church look more like rock stars and less like men and women responsible for shaping the faith of our church congregations. Senior leadership wants worshippers leaders to create a compelling, engaging, and emotional musical experience, and that’s it. Warm up the congregation for the sermon when the real work of God is done.
All worship leaders are worship pastors. I don’t care what your title is. Maybe you're a worship director or worship coordinator. If you have the responsibility of putting songs in peoples mouth which have significant formative power over on their spiritual lives, you are pastoring them. You are showing them how to relate to God. You are teaching them biblical and theological doctrine. Worship leading is pastoral work.
You may feel unqualified for pastoral work. Maybe in your church, you do not have the title pastor because you’re not high enough on the pay scale, your not a male, or your not ordained. Don’t think a title or lack of a title gets you off the hook for your responsibility to pastor your congregation in worship. But you may wonder what that looks like? Here are three ways worship leaders can step up their game as pastors.
1. Thoughtfully and carefully plan your worship services
First, thoughtfully plan your worship services. Select songs that guide your congregation through the journey of the gospel every week. Remind them of how great God is. Remind them of how sinful and broken we are. Remind them of God’s grace. Remind them we are redeemed people, and we are invited into God’s mission to restore His kingdom.
2. Know your congregation
Second, get to know your congregation. Before and after service, spend as much time as you can mingling with the congregation members. Meet new people. Ask them what they do for a living. Check in on people you already know. It’s incredible how much people appreciate a mere 30-second interaction with their leaders, including their worship leader.
3. Speak between songs
Third, share meaningful thoughts and prayers between songs in your worship set. Songs do not speak for themselves. In our modern church, worship leaders are the primary means by which our congregation learns the language of our faith. What you say and what your pray matters.
But I know a lot of worship leaders are terrified of speaking during worship. They don’t know how to come up with something meaningful to share. They feel like they are constantly repeating the same shallow phrases. I know I’ve experienced this struggle.
For centuries, church worship has been more than just singing songs. Christians before us wrote liturgies so church leaders can effectively lead their church in prayers and readings between songs. I’m not advocating that all churches need to use the book of common prayer and adopt a liturgical style of worship. But I think worship leaders must be more intentional about developing their skill of speaking and praying between songs.
Rather than just identifying and complaining about this problem, which is something you always see in the Christian blogosphere, I want to do something about it. I want to help worship leaders become comfortable and confident with sharing meaningful thoughts and prayers in worship. Not for the sake of making them look good or feel better about themselves, but for the sake of the spiritual health of our congregations and to help worship leaders live up to their pastoral potential.
I've created a guide to help you prepare meaningful things to say or pray in worship.
Free Guide: 25 things to say or pray in worship
I’m sure a lot of church leaders have opinions on this topic. Have you ever felt like the title worship leader is a cop out for pastoral responsibility? What is your title at your church and why? Do you struggle with engaging your congregation pastorally as a worship leader? I want to hear from you. Leave your thoughts, love, and opinions in the comments below!
Regardless of the size of your worship ministry, I recommend having a process for auditioning new members of the team. You do not want people in your band who lack the competence, character, and chemistry you desire. Here is a 4 step process for vetting potential band members and making sure they will be the right fit.
Step one - Create a clear vision and expectations for your ministry
Document your vision for the worship band and expectations for its members. You may need to consult with other leaders at your church. Maybe you want to have strict standards about who can play on the team, but your senior pastor expects that Mary-Lou, the long time member with organ experience should be allowed to play piano or keys in the band despite the fact she has no clue how to play with a contemporary band. Write down your expectations for how much band members should devote to practicing every week, or if they are expected to memorize music. Document your expectations for yourself as the leader. Over the years I have learned that a lack of clear expectations leads to a lot of awkward conversations and conflict in the future. Have a crystal clear vision of who your band is and the priorities in your ministry. It will help you give clear judgment on who will be a good fit.
Step two - The online audition
Have a web page on your church website dedicated to receiving inquiries from people interested in joining the band. Ask for basic information such as their name, phone, email address, and their instrument. Ask them to send you a link to a Youtube video of them singing or playing their instrument to a worship song you select. This video recording is “round one” of your audition process. It should give you an idea if they are a good fit. If they are not skilled enough, send them an email or give them a phone call and thank them for their interest but tell them their skill level does not reach what is necessary for joining the band. It is not easy to do, but learn from my mistakes. I hate telling people no. Instead of biting the bullet and enduring temporary short term awkwardness, I said yes and eventually regretted it. In one case, I let someone sing on Sunday once but then had to tell them they no longer could be in the band because they were not able to perform up to par. I wish I would have been honest with them earlier.
Step three - The in-person audition and interview
Once someone has completed the online form and has made it through the online audition, it is time to schedule an in-person audition and interview. Provide a list of three or four songs to prepare to play and let them know what gear they will need to bring to the audition. Have them play a song or two and analyze their musicianship. If you want, record them so you can refer to it later when you make your final decision. Hopefully, if they made it this far they at least have an 80% chance of making in the band. During this meeting make time to ask them questions to ensure they will align with your expectations of character and chemistry. This is different for everyone, so you will need to come up with your unique questions. Explain to them the expectations you have for worship band members and tell them you want them to take a few days to consider whether or not they can meet those expectations. During those few days, you will also think and pray about their audition. Delaying the decision and notifying them by email will allow you time to make sure they are a good fit and say no if necessary. Do not feel like you need to give them an answer on the spot.
Step four - Assimilate them into the team
When someone makes it onto the team, do your best to make them feel a part of the family. It starts with making time to meet with them one-on-one so that they feel like they know you as their leader. When he or she arrives at rehearsal, introduce them to the rest of the band. Invite them to any social events you host for your team. Consistently develop relationships with all of your band members and remind them of the expectations for being in the band.
This audition process might sound a bit overboard to some. You might think it is unreasonable at your small church. I disagree. Putting a system like this in place will allow you to properly vet potential band members and save you a lot of headache down the road. At first, it might be a slow road building your team. You might say no to more people than you like. Over time you will gain momentum and attract the right volunteers to your ministry. Those who make it on the team will be committed to excellence, and they will be your most valuable asset as a worship leader.
What does your worship team audition process look like? How do you feel about the one I described? Share your thoughts, love, and opinions in the comments below.
Finding people to fill all the required positions in your band or production team can be difficult. It is especially tough when you lead worship at a small to mid-sized church. Here are four strategies to find potential new members for your worship team. I say “potential” because in these early phases of recruitment you do not know if they are going to be a good fit. That will require getting to know them and having them go through your audition process. Here we will focus only on how to start having more conversations with potential band members.
Be proactive and ask around.
New worship team members do not magically appear out of thin air. You must be proactive in the process of finding them. Before and after the worship service on Sunday, you should be interacting with the congregation. As you have casual conversations with people, ask them if they have any musical experience or interest in joining the worship band. If they do not, ask if they have any friends or family members who do. You are bound to find people interested in serving if you consistently ask.
Partner with the assimilation team.
Most churches have an assimilation process. Hopefully, your church has a system for helping attendees or members get involved by serving. Make sure that “worship team” and “production team” are on the list of options for people to serve. You will want the assimilation pastor or person overseeing that process to tell people that some or all positions for worship volunteers will require an audition process. Being able to lead songs in front of the congregation requires a certain level of musical competence that serving at the coffee bar does not.
Identify and train young musicians.
My favorite way to find new worship team members is to identify and train young musicians with little experience but high potential. Some high school students are dying to learn how to play guitar and sing. You have that knowledge and can easily share it with them. It is going to require a fair amount of work on your part, but it is worth it when you see them grow as musicians. Who knows? You could be the catalyst to help them discover a calling to worship ministry. Encourage these students to take lessons to develop their voice or instrument. Give them lessons yourself if you have the time. You could get paid to build your worship band.
Finally, you may want to network with musicians who you can pay modest stipends to play in your band. Ideally, they would be Christians and have an understanding of the purpose of worship music. Maybe they are stellar worship volunteers at another church, but they would not mind playing at your church once a month or every other week. I have had a lot of great experience working with these types of musicians. Sometimes contracting musicians is tough, especially if your church has no budget for it. Explain to your leadership how helpful it would be for the quality of worship to have a hundred or two hundred dollars a month budgeted for contract musicians. I would expect to pay anywhere from $25-$75 per service depending on their experience and skill level.
If you consistently network with other musicians and get to know the people in your church, you will have a steady stream of people who are either interested in serving in the band or available for hire for a modest stipend. Are there any other techniques or strategies you have used to find new team members? Let me know in the comments.
I grew up in a small Pentecostal church in Northern Vermont. It was the church where I discovered my passion for worship ministry. I love the vitality and energy of the charismatic tradition. When I was young, the charismatic church and its style of worship were all I knew. I did not know that not all churches value extended worship sets, raising hands, clapping, and altar calls. Elevation Church is one of a handful of charismatic mega-churches that has been producing solid worship songs for any church to use on Sunday. In early 2016 they released the album, Here as in Heaven. One of the most popular songs on that album is O Come to the Altar written by Chris Brown, Mack Brock, Steven Furtick, and Wade Joye. Since the album’s release, O Come to the Altar has made it to the top 10 most popular songs on CCLI Song Select. Many churches across the globe are singing it right now. This song is both singable and powerful for any congregation.
The following is a review of the song from both a musical and theological standpoint. You’ll learn some practical tips for arranging the song for congregational singing and understanding the song meaning.
O Come to the Altar is a ballad in 6/8. I don’t know what it is about 6/8 ballads. For some reason, they have a high emotional impact. Another popular but older song that is a 6/8 ballad is How He Loves by John Mark MacMillan or Come as You Are by David Crowder. The range of the melody is small and stays under an octave. That makes it singable for just about anyone. The motifs in the song are also memorable and repetitive. There is nothing particularly challenging about the instrumentation in this song. It sounds great played acoustically or with a full band. If you’re new to leading worship, I would recommend having this song in your library. One of my favorite things about this song is the chord progression in the chorus. I love how it moves from the one chord to the two chord, then to the six chord. The two chord feels a bit surprising but it fits well and gives the song a distinct sound.
As I mentioned above, I grew up in a charismatic church where altar calls were the norm. Personally, I can connect with the idea of coming forward to the altar as a sign of surrender and worship. In the Old Testament, the altar was the place where God’s people made sacrifices for their sin. It was a unique place where God interacted with humans. It’s where people would go to consecrate themselves to God. In other words, it’s where people would go to find forgiveness for their sin and devote their life to God. In the New Testament, Christ’s death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice on the ultimate altar. As Christians, we do not need to make animal sacrifices anymore. Instead, we are to offer our lives as “living sacrifices” to God, as Paul says in Romans 12. We are “living” sacrifices because Christ has brought us from spiritual death to life. We are in right relationship with God. We are consecrated. We are set apart for his purpose. The animal sacrifices in the Old Testament were a prediction of what was to come in complete fulfillment in Christ.
So when you sing the lyrics of this song, know that the imagery of the “altar” has a lot of Biblical meaning behind it. The chorus is simple but packed with truth. When we sing, “O Come to the Altar,” we are not asking people to find a lamb to kill at the front of the church. It’s referring to the type of sacrifice Paul mentions in Romans 12:1. We want to make it a habit of laying down the ways of our old self at the altar so that we can embrace a new life in Christ.
Worship Leading Tips
I would recommend leading this song in the key of F or G if you are a male vocalist and D or E if you are a female vocalist. On the album, they play it in B. In my opinion, it is an awkward key for your average small to mid-sized congregation. If I were leading, I would play it in the key of F and capo the 5th fret and play in the key of C.
This song works great as an invitation for response to a sermon or call to salvation. Depending on your church’s style and traditions, you could even invite people to come to the front of the stage as a tangible expression of coming to the altar. You could have church leaders available to pray over them. Using the brief theological explanation above saying something like, “In the bible, the altar was a place where people came before God and sought to be made holy for His purposes. Back then they sacrificed animals to experience communion with God. Since Jesus’ death was the ultimate sacrifice on the altar of the cross, we can come before God without needing to make animal sacrifices. Instead, we surrender our own lives to God so that we can be living sacrifices. That’s what this song is about. I want to invite you to embrace God’s transformative love for you through Christ. You are made holy and accepted by God because of Jesus' blood.”
If you found this review and these tips helpful hit that like button and share it with your worship leading friends! I’d love to hear your feedback on this song. Are you singing it in your church? How has your congregation received it? What do you like or do not like about the song?
During my years at seminary, I spent some time leading worship in the Anglican church. If you are unfamiliar with the Anglican tradition, they are the folks who wear funny robes, walk up and down the aisle at the beginning and end of service holding the Bible and cross and say a lot of liturgical readings. They are Catholic in worship style but Protestant in their theology. The Anglican churches I had the pleasure of leading in were a mix of ancient tradition with modern music. As a worship leader, I loved it.
A lot of modern, evangelical churches view music as the only form of worship on Sunday morning. In the Anglican church, music is just one aspect of worship. Anglicans view other activities like reading scripture, listening to the sermon, and celebrating the Eucharist as worship. It makes for a highly participatory worship service because people can engage in multiple forms of worship rather than just singing. Everyone can do a responsive reading or prayer because those activities are so straightforward and simple. No one complains that they do not like the “style,” “key,” or “arrangement” of a corporate reading like they would complain about a song. But I guess this is the church we are talking about so we never want to underestimate a church-goer’s ability to complain!
Although I no longer lead worship in an Anglican church, its tradition does have an influence on how I plan and lead worship, even in a modern, suburban, evangelical church. The primary way this expresses itself is in my use of corporate readings. On a weekly basis, I utilize scripture and other ancient prayers in worship that help increase the level of engagement in worship. Here are the most common types of corporate readings I use.
Call to Worship
Reading a corporate call to worship is an excellent way to get the congregation’s mouths moving and help them focus on why we are there to worship. The book of Psalms is the best resource for finding Call to Worship readings. For example, I will use a passage like Psalm 95:1-7. Sometimes I will invite the congregation to read the whole passage with me. Other times I will alternate every two verses with them. Whichever way you choose, make sure you indicate on the screens by changing the font colors or boldness.
Modern worship music in general lacks elements of confession, so I find myself using a prayer of confession frequently. Scripture verses like Psalm 51 work great as prayers of confession. I would also recommend the Anglican prayer of confession you can find in the Book of Common Prayer.
Assurance of Pardon
If we read a prayer of confession, I always follow it with an assurance of pardon. We do not want people to forget the grace they receive in Jesus. Many Bible verses work well for this, and most of the time I will read it over them. A few examples include Isaiah 1:18, John 3:16-17, and Romans 8:1.
If you want to sound a little old school but thoughtful in your prayers, then I would check out the Collects in the Book of Common Prayer. There is a different collect for every week of the year, including ones for other special occasions. You can either read the collect entirely or have the congregation read along. The collects are super brief and could work well while transitioning in between songs.
Prayer of Blessing or Sending
At the end of the service, I like to send the congregation out with a prayer of sending or blessing. It reminds them that they are a people of God on a mission. Many Bible verses work well for this. A couple of examples include Numbers 6:24-26, Romans 15:13, or 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.
I hope this provides you with some direction on how to start using corporate readings in worship. These readings are never a substitute for congregational singing. Make sure you are still picking and arranging songs your congregation will sing. I also understand that whether or not you choose to do these reading depends on your church’s worship style and if your pastor is okay with this type of worship. Make sure if you introduce something new like this, you explain the why behind it. When done properly, corporate readings will increase the level of engagement and participation in worship.
Alongside the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, the best resource I know of for choosing readings on a weekly basis is The Worship Sourcebook. This book has hundreds of ideas for prayers you can use. It is also an educational resource for understanding liturgical readings and their purpose.
Does your church use corporate readings in worship? Let me know in the comments.
As a worship leader, I love having the responsibility of picking the songs my church is going sing every week. Think about how cool of an opportunity that is. Whether your church is 50 people of 5,000 people, as worship leaders, we have the privilege of curating a musical and spiritual experience that deeply impacts the lives of those in your church. Song selection plays a huge role in your congregation’s spiritual health. The songs you pick will be stuck in their head throughout the week. They won’t remember your pastor’s sermon, but they will remember that catchy new song by Elevation Worship. A lot is at stake as we select songs on a weekly basis. How do we make sure we are picking the right songs?
While there is no clear-cut process for choosing the right songs, I do believe there are a handful of things worship leadership should consider on a weekly basis as they open up Planning Center and start plugging in their song choices. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I want to show you the six things I consider most often while choosing worship songs.
Consideration #1: God
Worship leaders should make it part of their weekly routine to sit down and consider God. This seems obvious, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s easy to skip over spiritual preparation for practical preparation. Do not underestimate how God can speak into your planning process when you make time and space for it to happen. Go for a long walk, or find a quiet place in your church. This does not need to be a half-day prayer retreat. Maybe for some, just five minutes of dedicated time to prayer over your planning process is all you need. The important thing is to reflect on who God is and ask Him to guide you in your worship planning and song selection process
Consideration #2: Gospel
My approach to planning worship is to tell the story of the Gospel every Sunday through song choice, readings, and prayers. That means I want to have songs that express God’s greatness, our need for salvation, His forgiveness, our thankfulness, and our call to mission. Each week I try to select songs that touch on most or all of these aspect of our encounter with God. A book that helped me think this way about picking worship songs is “Christ-Centered Worship” by Bryan Chappell. After learning this paradigm, my song-selection is informed by the narrative of the gospel instead of haphazardly picking songs that seem to fit well together.
Consideration #3: The message or theme of the day
The message of the sermon or theme of the day also plays a role into my song selection process. I do not try to force this. While the sermon is a crucial part of worship, it should not determine the choice of every song. As I explained already, the whole gospel narrative should be told throughout the worship experience, so while it is good to have a song, maybe two that reinforce the sermon message, I feel like the purpose of the music and other aspects of worship should be to take the congregation places where the sermon does not. In my current worship leading context, most of the worship music is before the sermon, and we have one response song after the sermon. That is where I will place a song that reinforces the message.
Consideration #4: Song Frequency
Before scheduling a song, I will look at the song use history. Planning center makes this really easy when viewing services in matrix view, or by looking up the song’s history in the library. I want to be sensitive to whether or not a song has been played too much or too little. If I’m introducing a new song, then I will play that song multiple weeks in a row. If it’s a song that is a standard in our library, I will play it every 4-6 weeks.
Consideration #5: The Band
Often, the makeup of my band on a given week will determine what songs I choose. On weeks when my best drummer is playing, I will schedule more challenging songs because I know he will nail them. Or maybe my best piano player is on the schedule so I choose more songs that are piano driven. I enjoy picking songs that play to individual band members strengths.
Consideration #5: The Worship Leader
Hopefully you are not the only worship leader in your band. Maybe you are the only one paid to be the worship leader, but there may be skilled volunteers who can lead songs. I know this plays a significant role in my song choice for a particular Sunday. What songs fit that person’s voice? Which ones are they most confident leading?
What other considerations do you have when picking songs? Let the Churchfront Community know below in the comments.
Intro to the video guide
If you are searching for a clear and comprehensive guide on how to get started with using Ableton Live in worship, you have come to the right place. In this free video series, I have compiled everything I know about running a click and backing tracks in worship to using more advanced features in Ableton such as automating production elements like worship lyrics.
If you haven’t already, go to Ableton.com to download your 30-day free trial of Live. You will be able to demo all of the features of the suite version during this time. That ensures you can learn how to use the software before making a financial commitment to purchase it. If your budget allows, I recommend buying the Standard version of Ableton Live, but everything you learn here will apply to the Lite version. The only downside of the Lite version is you will be limited to 16 tracks.
For my complete list of Ableton Live gear recommendations, download my Lead Worship with Ableton Toolkit. Access the toolkit by clicking the link below.
Video 1 - How to get started with a click and backing tracks in worship
In the first video, I will introduce you to the basics of running a click and backing tracks in worship, so you will understand the big picture of how this process works as well as the gear you will need.
Video 2 - How to setup a multitrack session in Ableton Live
In the second video, I will show you how to setup a multitracks session in Ableton Live for an individual song. This video will optimize your workflow and make it easy for you to assemble complete worship set lists in Ableton Live on a weekly basis.
Video 3 - How to create a worship set list in Ableton Live
In the third video, I will show you how to build a complete set list in Ableton Live arrangement view. This video is where we get down into the nitty-gritty, but the details you learn will be invaluable for helping you become an Ableton ninja in no time.
Video 4 - How to automate lyrics with Ableton Live and ProPresenter
In the fourth and final video, I will show you how to automate ProPresenter with Ableton Live. This video will allow you to have correct lyric slides 100% of the time, bringing your quality of worship production to the next level.
Congregational engagement and participation are high priorities in my worship ministry. The quality of music and production also matter a lot to me, but if the congregation’s mouths are not moving and they are just staring at the band, then I am not succeeding as a worship leader. I have always tried to arrange songs so that they are singable, and that has been one effective way to help them engage in worship. Recently, I have discovered the power of making a relational connection with my church during the worship service. By regularly implementing a few simple practices into my worship leading, I have seen people’s willingness to participate in worship increase, and I have received a lot of positive feedback regarding their ability to engage.
I know a lot of worship leaders struggle with connecting with their congregation, so here are three simple practices you can implement in your worship leading context to develop a deeper connection with your church community.
1. Introduce and share a little bit about yourself.
First, make sure you are regularly introducing yourself at the beginning of worship and share something about yourself. Relationship is critical to all forms of leadership, and I think many worship leaders forget to apply that to their role. Think about it. You are trying to lead people to sing and engage in a spiritual experience. That is a lot to ask of complete strangers. Singing is a physically demanding activity, and spirituality is deeply personal. As a worship leader, you must gain the congregation’s trust. The most basic way to do this is to get to know them. You cannot expect to lead people to raise their hands in worship, which is a very vulnerable posture if they have no basis to trust or follow your requests.
When I first met my wife and was interested in pursuing her, did I immediately go up to her and ask, “will you marry me and spend the rest of your life with me?” Of course not. It took three years of us getting to know each other before she was able to commit to being with me for life. That is an extreme example of the work and intentionality it takes to develop a relationship and trust, but the same underlying principles apply to worship leading.
Your congregation wants to know you before they follow you. Do not expect them to sing, raise their hands, or engage in worship if they have zero personal connection with you. Try to dedicate a little bit of time every service to allow the congregation to have a glimpse of who you are. You do not need to be everyone’s best friend or share your deepest sins. I’m talking about making sure they know a little bit about your passions and your family. Here’s an example of what I said at the beginning of a worship service that was my first Sunday as an interim worship leader.
“Good morning, Deer Creek Church. My name is Jake, and I’m excited to worship with you this morning. I have been friends with your staff for a while now, and I love how vibrant and life-giving your church is. To tell you a little bit about myself, I am married to my wife Kaylee, and we do not have any kids, but we have four chickens…”
After everyone had laughed I invited them to join me in the Call to Worship and began the worship set. It took less than 20 seconds but it helped them connect with me, and I gained at least a little bit of trust. Each week I try to say or do something in the service so that they can know and trust me more.
2. Use humor when appropriate
The second tip I have for connecting with your congregation is use humor when appropriate. There is a reason why the personalities with the biggest following in our culture are comedians. I love watching the Late Night Show with Stephen Colbert and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. I disagree with a lot of their worldview, but they can gain my attention because they are funny. Humor is the most powerful tool for removing barriers between personal connection. Embrace the moments when you have an opportunity to be funny. Do not go overboard and try to be a stand-up comedian. Here is an example of something I’ve said to be humorous.
“Good morning, Deer Creek Church. My name is Jake, and I’m the choir director. By nature of being in this room at 9:00 or 11 AM, you just joined the choir.”
Everyone laughed because this church does not have a choir. I said it to be funny and to make a point that they were expected to sing.
3. Explain the "why" behind your worship.
The final tip I have for connecting with your congregation is to regularly explain the meaning and purpose of the various activities in worship. People will follow you when they are compelled by the “why.” Never assume that your congregation is full of worship theologians. They have no clue why you picked the songs you did or why they are reading an old school prayer. If you take just a few moment to explain and guide your congregation through the worship experience, they will connect. Guiding the congregation through worship is something I am passionate about because I love thinking critically about theology and liturgy, and every time I share explanatory thoughts in worship, I have congregants tell me how helpful it is for them. Instructing them in this way is what it means to be a worship pastor. Help your congregation connect the dots between Sunday morning and their everyday lives. Here’s an example of what I’ve said to explain a portion of worship.
Before singing the song "This I Believe" by Hillsong Worship, I tell them, “We are gonna sing a song based on an ancient text called the Apostle’s Creed. Christians have been proclaiming these words for centuries to affirm their faith, and we are going to join them by singing this song."
Before we pray a prayer of confession, I would say something like, “At this time I want to invite you to join me in this prayer of confession. It’s an opportunity to come before God and say, “Hey, God, I have fallen short in loving you and loving others in my life. I have sinned against you in so many ways, I have disrespected authority figures in my life, mistreated my spouse, or cursed at the guy who cut me off on the highway. I’m a sinner and need your grace every day.” Then we go on to pray the prayer of confession from the Book of Common Prayer.
Brief explanations like this will help connect the dots for your congregants. Look for these opportunities during the planning process. Write them out and practice saying them.
Developing a meaningful relationship with your congregation takes time, but I think you’ll soon see the benefits of implementing these tips. People will be more willing to follow you as a worship leader if they know you and they know the “why” behind worship.
I hope you found this article helpful for your ministry and it gives you a few actionable tips for connecting with your congregation. What other ways have you found to connect with your congregation? What do you find difficult about connecting with them? Let me know in the comments below.
My number one leadership book recommendation is The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. Reading this book has given me the clearest paradigm for understanding what it means to grow as a leader in whatever context or role I find myself. The book is straightforward. Maxwell explains there are five levels of leadership.
- People Development
- Leader Development
Leadership growth happens when you advance from level one up to level five. You cannot skip a level, and you must maintain prior levels as you grow. It did not take long reading this book for me to discover how this applies to my role as a worship leader. Maxwell defines leadership as influence. I agree with this definition. As worship leaders, we are trying to influence our volunteers to be committed and the church body as a whole to know and love God more. But how does this influence happen? As I unpack the five levels of leadership, I think you’ll discover where you are at as a leader and how you can grow in influence in your worship ministry.
Level 1 - Position
Maybe you’re a volunteer and your lead pastor saw potential in you, or you were hired as a full-time worship leader. Either way, you began your journey by being granted a position. This level of leadership has the least influence. It is merely having the title, “worship leader.” Do not expect people to follow you just because you were granted a position. Sure, your band members may show up to rehearsal and maybe put in a little practice time at home, but do not expect them to be committed or exceed your expectations. A lot of worship leaders complain their band just does not care or they are not reliable. Guess whose fault that is. Yours. It’s probably because you are stuck at level one leadership. Influencing others takes a lot of work and requires stepping up to the next levels of leadership.
Level 2 - Permission
To reach the next level of leadership, you must develop relationships with your worship band so that they give you permission to lead them. Developing relationships is absolutely critical for influence. The old sayings are true. “People go along with leaders they get along with.” Or “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” As a worship leader, I have always struggled with this area of leadership. I poured all of my time and energy into the excellence of music and production, but I failed to connect with my worship team and congregation. You can attain this level of worship leading by making time in your calendar to meet with your band and members of your church. Set a goal is to meet with one or two people a week. Ask them a lot of questions about their story, their family, and their passions. Ask how you can pray for them. Host a band hangout at your house so they can meet your family. You do not need to be their best friend. They just need to know you. I think you’ll be amazed at how much more committed they will become. They will even buy into your crazy ideas. Invest the time to earn their permission as a leader and your influence will increase.
Level 3 - Production
The next level of leadership is production. This is not “production” in the sense of audio and visual elements in worship. This production refers to your competency and ability to get work done. In the church world, a lot of leaders become complacent and remain on level two. It makes sense because the permission level seems the most “pastoral” and a lot of churches believe it is okay to have less than stellar production in ministry. There are also ministry leaders like me who want to skip permission and work on production. Both staying on level two and skipping level two are wrong. If you want to grow your ministry and grow your church, you need to continually grow in your skills and be a productive leader. For worship leaders, that means becoming a better musician, theologian, and growing in one's understanding of how to use technology in worship. Take music lessons, read books, and attend conferences. Advancing one’s education and skill set has never been easier thanks to the internet. It also means being disciplined and working hard. Avoid being a last minute planner. Your band and your congregation will want to follow you more as you contribute to the advancement of the church’s mission.
Level 4 - People Development
Once you have established meaningful relationships and the discipline to be a productive leader, the next level is people development. At this level, people will follow you because of what you do for them. If you remain on level three, it will not be long until your team stagnates. Your ability to be productive can only go so far in advancing your ministry. That’s why it is necessary to begin developing other team members into worship leaders. This will set you apart from 99% of worship leaders. Advancing to this level is tough. It’s hard enough to ascend to the third level of leadership yourself, let alone influence others to do the same. Good leaders are not afraid to work themselves out of a job. If your church has a healthy leadership culture, this will be encouraged. Replacing yourself will give you the opportunity to lead larger and work on bigger projects you would not have time for if you were the sole worship leader.
Level 5 - Leader Development
The pinnacle of leadership is developing others to level four leadership. In other words, you develop leaders who develop leaders. Very few make it to this level of leadership. While I have never seen this in a worship ministry, here’s what I would envision for a level five worship leader. This person would mentor and develop a team of worship leaders who are developing other worship leaders. They would be behind the scenes and rarely would they be on the platform on a Sunday morning. It does not sound glamorous, but this type of leadership is how you leave a legacy because now your influence impacts exponentially more people. Realistically, I only see this happening at large and growing mega-churches who have the resources for growing and developing a large staff. There are possibly some other avenues through which this level of leadership can be exercised, but they would be rare.
Leading and influencing others is tough no matter how you slice it. If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. As you can see from this brief overview, it is highly applicable to any leadership context, especially worship leading.