Preparation. Sounds simple. Right? We all know that we need to be prepared to lead our congregation in worship; however, when we think of preparation we naturally go to the technical, musical and organizational issues. I have to confess that for years this is exactly how I led our worship ministry. The church referred to us as the “Worship and Music Department” and that’s exactly who we were, a department. We were not a ministry, nor a team by definition. We did an excellent job at providing “music” for our services, but what we lacked was a sense of purpose. A cause to live for, or should I say die for! A cause that was worth everything we have. Like the cause that Jesus came for. Jesus came to restore a broken relationship that humanity had with the Almighty Creator of the universe. (That thought still gives me chills!) We didn’t have a cause because “I”, as the leader, didn’t have a cause. I didn’t see my job as a facilitator of divine relationships. I didn’t see myself as one who helped people connect with God. I was a music director and I may as well have been working for IBM.
The first step in preparing your worship team for your weekly service is being prepared yourself. It all starts right here… The team will not go farther than the leader. This sounds pretty obvious, however it’s not a slam-dunk. Our personal preparation as worship leaders is paramount to the success (if I can use that term) of the entire worship experience. Note that I didn’t say “service”. We can pull off events totally in the flesh. If we’re going to be real honest here, most skilled worship leaders don’t “need” a lot of personal preparation to pull off an event (the service), however, we are not event coordinators we are servants of the Almighty God.
Self-Preparation and Team-Preparation begins with having a sense of mission, a cause, a sense of purpose for being on this earth. In my early years of worship ministry the majority of my time was spent in conflict resolution and peace keeping (Can any of you Worship Leaders relate to this?). I had accepted the fact that if I was going to lead a church music department, I was destined to be continually fielding complaints from team members, after all they are the creative, artistic, gifted ones and need a lot of extra TLC. I was working very hard and doing pretty much everything in my power to create a community in our worship ministry, but no matter what I did, it wasn’t working. I was very successful at creating a musical organization within a local church, but as far as a community was concerned, it didn’t look like anything modeled in New Testament Christianity.
At one juncture in my ministry, as I did every year, I spent a week in the fall preparing for the next year. This process included looking at various Christmas and Easter programs, putting together the worship department budget, plotting out various dates on the church calendar and in most cases praying about a specific team member (different every year) who was causing me higher than normal blood pressure. This particular year was different though. This year I was having more than my share of conflict resolution issues on the worship team. I was truly considering resigning, changing careers, and doing something comparatively safe, like disarming explosives. Anyhow, when I began to ask myself, why I was doing what I was doing it became really clear to me that I didn’t have a clue why I was doing what I was doing. Yeah, I know: Jesus died for me and gave me a musical gift so, as any good Christian would; I was serving Him with it. That’s the standard stewardship answer. Give back to God what He has given to you. Well, sounds spiritual and all, but in reality it does nothing for Kingdom building. Jesus said; Go and make disciples of all nations.” He said; Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Neither of these had anything to do with music, but those words stirred in my heart. I longed to be a part of the larger vision. Why was I the worship pastor at our church? How did my “job” fit into the larger picture of kingdom building? I didn’t know. My passion for serving Jesus was gone, and I couldn’t even tell you when it left.
In a few short days the use of my musical gifts became clear. I was to use what God had given me to bring people into relationship with the Lord Jesus, Himself. In other words, I was no longer to see myself as a musician, but as a facilitator. Worship Leaders are facilitators in the spiritual realm. We have the same calling on our life as does every other Christian. We are to make disciples. We do that, in part, by bringing people into an interactive worship experience through music. Having this as a baseline, it totally changed how I led our worship team and how we prepared for the service. Now, before you go throwing out the baby with the bathwater, let’s remember that we ARE musicians for the Lord and we need to prepare musically. The charts need to be arranged, planning needs to be done and rehearsals need to take place. The changes that needed to be made were in how we approached our musical planning and preparation.
First of all we did a “check up from the neck up”. In other words I changed the way our team was mentally prepared for the service. I did this by taking the mission statement of our church and talking with the worship team about it. We talked about what our purpose was and how our ministry added to the disciple-making process. (And while I was doing this, I was fully aware that I was helping the team to be a more effective disciple as well). This little exercise did two things for us, neither of which I expected. First it boosted morale and began to create authentic community within the team. Each member began to take their eyes off of themselves and see us as a unit. A team. Working together. Remember, earlier when I said I worked real hard at trying to create community? What I was unable to do through community building times, God accomplished when I took the time to show the team their purpose, a larger cause and a deeper meaning for what we did each week. The second thing that happened is I no longer had problems with individuals on the team. The ones that were causing me the greatest headaches, either became totally committed to the cause, or they left the team, because they really believed that it was all about music and didn’t want a part of the larger vision. Although that wasn’t my goal, I certainly allowed them to move on.
Secondly, after changing our mental outlook on things we really focused on our own spiritual preparation. After our Sunday morning sound check and rehearsal, we would pull away for prayer. Many times I find that worship teams pray in such a way to just kill time. We pray because we think that we have to. We seem to believe that saying certain words to God before the service makes all the difference in the world. Well, let’s be honest here. God will not be manipulated by vain words and self motivated requests. God meets us in worship only when we are obedient and truly seeking Him out with a pure heart. On a regular basis I would tell our team (just before getting up on the platform); “Rehearsal is over. Now take your gift and worship the Lord with it. Let’s give Him an excellent offering. Remember that you are not playing for the people this morning, you are playing for Royalty.”
With these minor adjustments we were able to build an excellent music ministry while letting go of things such as our pursuit of a smooth service, perfectionism, and wanting to be effective. Even though we really desired all of these things, what I found was that being prepared in the “right way” allowed the Holy Spirit to accomplish the things that needed to be accomplished on His own. It was through this that allowed us, as a team, to not be so focused on the distractions of leading and worrying about how the service would look or sound. I was free to worship, and even more free, to listen to His voice as I led. Taking the main focus off the music allowed us to be open to God’s power, open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and through that impart a blessing on the people.
The Psalmist wrote; Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24) When our heart is right before the Lord, it’s truly amazing what He will do through people. So many times we use a model that eliminates God’s power from our main objective. I challenge you to look at how you view both your personal preparation and that of your team and make some adjustments. NASCAR mechanics will tell you that minor adjustment can make the difference between winning and losing a race. Let’s run to win, so that the Lord would be real in the lives of the people who attend our worship services.