Monday 15 April 2013

Excellence vs Professionalism and Perfection


In all aspects of the ministry of leading worship God wants us to give our best. But what exactly does that mean?  Is giving our best about being the perfectly polished professional who never makes a mistake, who knows all the songs off by heart and can do any tune in any key? Or is it about having a perfected heart? Perfected by love, forgiveness, and God's amazing grace?



Over the years I have been to many churches in many countries. I have visited numerous denominations and experienced worship in all kinds of circumstances. From small home cells to large congregations of tens of thousands. And the one thing that stands out in great worship is excellence of spirit and humbleness of attitude

Personally, I am not about show. Not when it comes to worship. Concerts have an audience, worship is corporate (all together) with a congregation. Worship is where we reach the intimate place of God's heart, and it's difficult (though not impossible) to reach that place when it's surrounded by flashing lights and smoke machines. (Ok, so I exaggerate a little).  When it comes to great worship in a church, I think we need to be careful to differentiate between WHAT we do and HOW we do it. Churches too often get caught up in trying to create a "well polished presentation" at the expense of reaching the heart of worship.

Now before you shout me down, I want to be absolutely clear on one thing: The Bible teaches that in the ministry of music; in the church and unto the Lord, we should be skilled in our craft and well practised. There is plenty of room to improve our abilities and stretch our capabilities. I believe that worship leaders and music directors everywhere are guilty of trying to create "better worship" by focussing on certain 'things' or formula that may lead to a better stage presentation but not necessarily excellent worship.  Here are a few:

* Music stands vs no music stands.

I have come across music directors who think it is "unprofessional" to have music stands and sheet music on the stage. Personally I would rather a musician have music to refer back to so as not to make a mistake, than trying to remember a piece of music, especially if it is a recent addition. I was in a church recently where a new song was introduced, and because this church had a "No Music Stand" policy, people had the sheet music on the floor and some were desperately peering down trying to focus on the music. So much so it was obvious and they were not aware of the congregation or the leading of the worship leader.  When I see the Symphony Orchestra perform I am looking at full time professional paid musicians with music sheets on music stands.  Listen, it is NOT unprofessional to have music on the stage. Professionals do it all the time. I would rather get it right than fumble my way through a song. Remember, most of your musicians are part time volunteers who have a life and a job and are passionate about giving God their best. Let them have their music!

* Dress standards: Colour vs plain

A lot has been made over the years about dress standard and dress code on stage for the worship team. Let me again point to the purpose for us being on the stage in the first place. It is to bring God's people on a journey to the heart of worship. Provided we are dressed modestly, I don't think there needs to be any hard and fast rules about what you should and shouldn't wear. I heard once of a beautiful young lady who, when told she had pretty shoes, refused to wear them on stage any longer because she worried that they were causing a distraction. The last time I saw her on stage, she wore all black, hair up and no makeup...
Praise is a joyful thing. To me it is full of colour. Colour in music, colour in exaltation, colour in outward expression, including in what we wear. In our uniqueness we can praise and worship a mighty God in all of His Glory and in the colour He deserves.
Remember, I said dress modestly, but don't feel you need to regulate the dress code to a uniform unless its for a special occasion or if the culture demands it. There are magnificent church choirs around where all the singers wear amazingly coloured robes. They bring quite a presence on the stage, and I love it!

*Fold Back: Speakers vs In-ear

On- stage fold back, if you are in a band situation is absolutely vital. However it can be so badly done and mixed that sometimes it creates more problems than benefits. In an ideal situation it's great to have a multi-channel fold back mixer, where you can filter out some of the less required instruments /voices for certain instruments or vocal groups. If you only have a two-channel fold back, you still have the ability to filter out fold back specific for say the bass and drums in one channel and guitars, keys and vocals in the other. If all you have in your PA is a stereo mixer with a left and right side split to front of house, I suggest that you assign one channel to the front of house, run the speakers in series and the other channel to the foldback.  All on stage should be able to easily hear the lead vocalist and the lead instrument (be it guitar or keys). All vocalists should be able to hear themselves in context with all other vocals.
As far as in-ear fold back goes, it's really important to remember that in corporate worship we are about the congregation. If you have 2 ear plugs it may be useful to leave one out so you can gauge the congregation or you could run the risk of leaving them behind. If you are running with fold back speakers, remember that they are there only for the benefit of those on stage, and the people sitting in the front row should not be able to hear them. Keep the volume down so that the sound-man can regulate the front of house levels.

Religion vs Reality

I want people to experience real worship, not something whipped up, and definitely not a show. I really believe there are many people in our churches who have not yet or not often experienced true intimacy in worship through the song service. It's easy to select some songs from a book or list and present some nice songs. It's a little more challenging to spend time seeking out the heart of God and getting the "right songs for that congregation for that day". We look to change people's lives and impact their worship experience. Remember we are in a priestly role and ushering the people into the presence of God. I don't look for a religious experience, I want people to experience the reality of the presence of God through the songs I bring. And all members of the worship team have an important role to play in this.

So, I encourage you to aspire to Excellence in your worship, no matter what member of the team you are, and see the Holy Spirit move in your service. If you are looking for more tools and resources to improve and hone your worship leading skills, check out our websites and podcasts available and and available free via download from iTunes.

Have a great week.