As worship leaders, the music and spiritual side of things are often talked about. But, there are some tasks blindsiding worship leaders. Whether it’s building set pieces, mapping lighting design, creating a logo, updating social media, or meeting those other duties as assigned tasks, volunteer and part-time worship leaders often face confusing job descriptions. How do we navigate these? How do we measure expectations with reality?
Writing songs of worship and prayer for your church is different than writing just any song. You need to keep in check three tensions: (1) your church; (2) your community; (3) and your experiences. All three need to be biblical and contribute to discipleship. Too often, modern worship is about being divorced from the past, and, more specifically, from our parents’ church. Instead of throwing out sacred songs, we should consider reimagining them.
What is it like being an artist in the local church today? If you are musical, you surely have an honored place in the worship team, but if you are a visual artist, a dancer, an actor, or write for TV or movies, how does the local church view your work? What if your work as an artist is not inside the local church. Creative professionals at times are lost in our church community. I have friends who produce music for video games, write books, and design illustrations for a living. We all readily appreciate the engineer, the dentist, or business man at church. They are the majority in a way. We can identify their work and quantify its relevance to our daily lives, but if our young people want to be creative professionals, often parents feel they didn’t raise their child properly. Try having a boy tell his dad he wants to be in a band and tour and you might hear the “get a real job first” and “something you can fall back on” speech.
It is amazing what a worship leader finds in his church inbox on a Monday morning. Over the many years I have served as a worship leader and worship pastor, several ministries encouraged feedback comments on the prayer cards. Against everything holy, the most valued person that ignited the insecurities of leadership was a person named Mr. or Ms. Anonymous. While some ignore this person, others put these above an email, note, or conversation with a live person that we can name and follow up with face to face. In one fantastic anonymous comment, a prayer card came with an attached note and artwork, to boot. This person took the time to draw a baby Jesus crying! “The music is so loud that it makes Jesus cry!” The stapled note attached included instructions on how to design a worship service with exact decibel levels prescribed.
Arguably, the largest trade show in Anaheim, California is the NAMM–or, the National Association of Music Merchants. I have attended many times over the years as a musical artist, guest of a manufacturer or as a representative buyer for a house of worship. Besides “geeking out” at the latest gear from all over the globe and soaking in performances in small venues of musical giants there is the reconnection with musicians that you don’t often get to hang out with due to distance and schedules. Our group of friends waited a rather long time to be seated in the hotel restaurant, but we finally ordered our food and immediately began chatting and perusing the menu. Before we were too deep into our lunch one of our table mates got our attention as he put his cell phone face down in the center of the table. His buddies quickly followed suit. I grudgingly stacked my phone, last on the deck as I saw the smirking glances in my direction. As an avid social media user I would have to engage in human conversation as unmediated by smartphones. What a shock and a way to go through potentially scary withdrawal symptoms. To add incentive to comply with the rules, the penalty was that whoever reached for their phone first would have to pay the entire bill. There were about seven of us–so, that would be an ouch on the bill. Most of us at the table peered at the stack of phones as one of them would buzz from a text every so often. But, we did not dare grab our phones for fear of a hit to the pocket book.
Monday mornings used to be a nail-biting affair for me as a worship leader. We had these comment cards which became a popular way for church members to express their opinions about Sunday worship service. For one, we called them “comment cards” and invited the onslaught of detailed prose. What was also known was that the entire staff and the board had a copy of these by early Monday morning in their mailboxes at church. By the 10:00 am staff meeting, this first page was already circulated through the grapevine. Around our boardroom table, we each received our copies of the staff meeting agenda with this list of comments attached to the front page. After the under the breath grunts from the pastor, we went around the table addressing each of these comments as directed to us. Some were pertinent advice. Others were an expression of their “friends” opinion as well as the “many people they know” that said the same thing. One problem was that many of these were anonymous. We surely could read between the lines with a bit of detective work. But, unlike other churches I had served over the years, the anonymous ones did not end up in the trash. They were, in fact, the most important on our list. I called this death by comment card. There was no way to address one comment saying the sound levels were two soft and one saying they were too loud. One unnamed dear person would question whether or not we had the Holy Spirit present and another would be thankful for the Spiritual refreshment.
How do we get young people to be involved? I think we simply invite them. There was a young youth ministry intern who was tasked by our youth pastor to raise up an all middle-school-aged worship band. My church in that season had plenty of young college-aged kids who wanted to serve in our church. That alone was a bonus, but this idea of letting the kids take over was something I had not seen first hand before. When they began leading worship, they all were pretty remedial at their instruments, learning them in their first-ever group setting. The sound was not always on the beat or in tune. It is one thing to pluck a guitar in a small room in the back of a music store. It is another to prepare to be in front of your peers playing music! I think they had but four songs they learned. And, yes, it did not sound very good––at first.
I still recall the smell of new carpet in our first brand new home. This was our first truly big ministry post as a worship pastor and felt much like moving into that new house with fresh paint and a tiny tree in the front yard. Our new church family filled our pantry, and for the years we served continued such hospitality. Everyone should get a honeymoon, and as with honeymoons, they are short-lived.
You would think with exponential growth that one would be in an ideal job situation in worship. But truth be told, fast pace of change brings chaos, and with that, challenges. You see, not long before I came on staff, this church opened a brand new sanctuary for worship. This humble group, used to fluorescent fixtures, exploded to a building with multiple catwalks and a balcony. The scale changed everything. Now, this young guy from the west coast arrives and even more change is put upon this bustling and growing church. So many mixed emotions exist in a fast-growing church. It is hard to keep up with the work, let alone one’s own reaction!
We all feel this as workers in the local church. The big service ends and the next Sunday it feels as if the oxygen levels in the church building are below half of usual. It has a name, this after-event nemesis: The Easter Wall. You have just put on one of the biggest events of the year. Easter–as well as Christmas–draw our largest crowds of people. After we indulge in that huge after-Easter nap, celebrate our team’s best foot forward, and warm from the afterglow of good vibes the normal time of year confronts us like a cinderblock wall at 30 miles per hour. We all have to go through the emotional and physical limitations of putting on our version of Super Bowl each Spring. We don’t regret it, no matter how tired we feel or how deep extra expenditures softened our budgets. The resurrection of our Lord deserves to be celebrated with as much splendor as we can muster. As the Psalmist sings, “Make his praise glorious!” Now that we had a great time, let’s get through the rest of the year.
Easter Sunday, often called the Super Bowl of the church by many, happens but once a year. In other words, we put a lot of our eggs in the basket of Easter–more than we might be willing to admit at times. (Yes, forgive the intended pun.) Not too many years ago, I recalled one such game day. Easter Sunday services kicked off and ended with a booming playlist of radio pop music accompanied with beach balls, balloons, and fun. Of course, people were having a blast and the desired “feels” brought pats on the back and “attaboys” from church leaders for the service programming. What is wrong with feeling great, anyway? After all, people in our culture feel defeated and stressed by our lifestyle. Our emotions matter, too. We have to be willing to have empathy and even plan our worship around real people and where their lives are lived. Being in a bubble is a failure for a leader. The heart of the planning was to relate to such felt needs. This is what Jesus himself often did.