ON VERSES - THE WHY

It dawned on me tonight that I haven't done much writing on our monthly night of worship, "Verses." This omission hasn't been intentional, I can assure you!

I started leading Verses a couple of years ago at our church. Initially, it was a once-a-year thing, typically held in a different location than our sanctuary and usually with another church praise band.

They were well-attended and folks seemed to enjoy them. It was common to hear, "You should do more of those" every time we wrapped up, but the logistics of guest bands and setup in alternate locations really kept us from being consistent.

There were two main reasons why we did Verses in the beginning. Though the service has changed a great deal, these two motivations are still the same.

WORSHIP & WORD
I've always wrestled with the idea of a "worship night". I understand it, but over the years I had grown frustrated with how these music-centric services had morphed into nothing more than a pursuit-of-goosebumps. Every time I went to one of these, it always seemed like the goal was to attain some sort of feeling or outward response. (Hands in the air, people falling over, etc.)

Six years ago, when I came to Bethel Bible, I was in the midst of a massive philosophical shift when it came to corporate worship - specifically musical worship.  I became passionate about protecting the integrity of God's Word in our worship in a culture that was elevating songs - written by flawed, sinful humans - over the divine and perfect word of God in scripture. There had to be a greater reason for gathering than just singing-the-songs-that-make-us-feel good.

Verses was designed from the start to be a balanced service of scripture and song. The premise was simple...once the service started, the only communication between songs would be the reading of God's Word. It would be a concentrated time of worship through corporate singing and public reading.

MORE TIME FOR THE JUNKIES
I'll admit it, okay. I'm a worship junkie. I love worship - the whole thing. And I get real jazzed by worship music. I'm the guy who wants more songs, longer instrumental breaks, more shouting, more clapping, more kneeling. Good or bad, that's who I am.

And I'm not the only one. Verses gave us the opportunity to bless our people who enjoy a longer, more intense musical setting. This is not me saying that sort of worship is better than another style, but I wanted to provide that balance for our people.

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For 2015, we committed to doing this service once a month. So far, it's been rewarding in every aspect. Yes, it's more work and required some logistical tap dancing some months, but it's been worth it.

We made other changes, too. First off, we're hosting the service in our sanctuary. This allows us to have almost zero setup and teardown. It also creates a consistent space where folks know they can come for worship.

The other change has been a bit harder to maintain, but we're doing our best to keep the musicians in house, using folks who know the songs instead of musicians who have to learn new material alongside musicians they may not know.

So far, it's going great! In the next post, I'll talk about how we plan and lead that service.

BIG BANDS / LITTLE BANDS

There's the weird thing happening in local churches these days.

Bands are getting smaller.

Have you noticed this? Now that multi-tracks and loops are cheap and sequencing is easy, the number of people on stage at church seems to be shrinking into a small special ops team of skinny dudes in all black clothing.

But the sound stays huge. With pads and backing tracks, those four people can sound like a team twice that size. The songs sound great, there's less clutter on stage and the team can be much more mobile in a service.

There's no doubt in my mind that using fewer - but more skilled- players in a church setting improves the overall quality of sound and musicianship. In fact, this is pretty much necessary in large churches. It's difficult for a church of 7,000-8,000 people to run a rotating volunteer band staff of 25 different players.

But I miss big bands.

Remember when worship bands used to be big? You'd roll into a church with people spread all over the place. Yes, it was a hassle for the sound guy and the songs sometimes fizzled out toward the end, but I kinda' miss that chaos. Every church is different, but back in those days, it didn't seem like those bands were huge so that they could nail cover tunes. It seemed the bands were large because somebody in leadership thought it was important to let a lot of people serve in worship.

It's a struggle for all of us who lead worship. Do we go with the Seal Team 6 of worship (professional, sleek, stone-cold players) or risk that quality by using a revolving team of musicians, all with varying degrees of skill? I think it's a little of both, actually.

All I know is that I do more loving and leading and serving when I've got a big old crew up there playing on Sundays. It's not as easy as hiring the five best guys you can find, but it sure does feel more like what a church should be.

MIND THE CUPCAKES

Let's imagine for a second that leading worship is like a serving a meal.

As a worship leader, you create a menu of items to serve people, you make sure you've got all the ingredients and you prepare, so that when it's time, the meal is just right.

But what kind of meal are you serving?

Some churches serve SALAD - fresh, organic, nutrient-rich. These are the sets that are declarative and doctrinal. The songs might be a bit wordy or "old-sounding" but the goal is clear: give people the stuff they need to be healthy and whole.

Some churches serve CUPCAKES - beautifully decorated, sugar-imbued vacations for the taste buds. These are the sets that feel good. The songs trend toward more emotional phrases like "I love you" or "I am Your beloved" but the goal is clear: bless people with an amazing experience.

SALADS aren't evil.
Neither are CUPCAKES.

But a diet of only one will make for a ineffective worship ministry.

I realize I'm mixing metaphors here, but hopefully it makes sense. When you lead worship, you bear a burden to present a balanced meal. People need to sing and hear doctrine. They also need to experience what it feels like to stand with their family and sing loud songs about God's mercy.

I want you to know two things about leading worship:

PEOPLE WANT CUPCAKES
Maybe it's because music is already an emotional art form or because they have history with some of the songs, but people people show up looking for the sweet stuff - what's gonna' taste and feel good. Imagine inviting people to a cupcake party and then demanding everybody eat a salad first...when you step up to lead, there are a lot of expectations about what you're gonna' give them.

CUPCAKES ARE EASIER
As a worship leader, it's way easier just to hit the feels. Thick keyboard pad, four-on-the-floor groove and dotted 8th delay and you got 'em wrapped around your little finger. In this day and age, it's way harder to teach them an 18th century hymn and hope they take to it.

In a set, you gotta' know where the cupcakes are so you can A) serve them well and B) find out where you can serve salad. It's good to have emotional moments in worship, but I believe those moments are at their strongest when sitting beside the declaration of Biblical truth.

Think about the cupcakes when you plan your set.
Think about the cupcakes when you're up there leading.
Put in the hard work to make sure your people are getting fed the good stuff. (BOTH KINDS.)

THE SUNDAY TEAM - MAKE SOME CHANGES / PASTORS

I wanna' say thanks to those of you who have stuck with the whole Sunday Team series. I hope these posts were a help to worship leaders and pastors alike!

To wrap up the series, I wanna' offer some very practical tips for worship leaders AND pastors. If you've read through the whole series, you might have realized that your ministry needs some work. I encourage you to try some of these steps! We'll kick off with some recommendations for pastors who want to strengthen their relationship with worship leaders.

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JUST LISTEN
Your worship leader likes to talk. It's a person with vision and plans and frustrations. And lots of us process our thoughts verbally. (...and we've probably already talked our family to death.) When you’re with your worship leader, let them talk. It will help.

It strengthens the friendship. Listening while we theorize is huge sign of respect and we’re grateful for it, but we're usually not that good at it. We need a safe space where we can bounce ideas around.

You may learn something. Worship leaders consume a lot information. You listen to a worship leader long enough, you’re going to find out about a world of books and ideas and theories you’ve never heard of. You may not agree, but it'll widen your horizons!

You’ll get ideas. I still believe worship leaders intuitively usually “know” what the congregations is feeling. Letting your worship leader talk might highlight areas of growth or challenge in your church.

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MAKE AN ALLY
Lots of Sundays, it comes down to you and that worship leader. You’re a team - in reality, and in the eyes of the congregation. Foster partnership among the church staff. Work toward having a relationship where you and the worship leader are allies.

Schedule some dreaming. Have lunch, just to dream about the church. Use this to find common ground on what you’re both working on. This will go a long way toward syncing up your ministry approaches.

Reference reference reference. The easiest way to make an ally of your worship leader is to reference something that worship leader has said. It may seem silly, but referencing your worship leader in a meeting or small group will be a serious blessing.

Compliment. It really doesn't matter if your worship leader succeeds or not. After he or she leads, compliment them. It doesn’t have to be huge, but a simple, sincere compliment will allow your worship leader to let down their guard and open up to you.

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LEARN THE LANGUAGE
Find out how worship leaders talk. Find out what worship experts are talking about or books/ideas that are impacting local churches. Don’t be the pastor who forces the worship leader to conform his or her conversations to your personal issues.

Listen to worship music. I still don't understand why pastors hate worship music. It baffles me. Build a playlist in your phone of songs the church is singing. Ask your worship leader to recommend some tunes!

Know what's changing. Most pastors can talk at length about current social movements within the local church, but that stuff happens in church music, too.

Learn a little music. You don’t have to start piano lessons, but know the difference between a ballad and a rock tune. Try and figure out which instruments are most prominent in certain songs and ask. Find your worship leader's influences and then go listen to them.

THE SUNDAY TEAM - MAKE SOME CHANGES / WORSHIP LEADERS

I wanna' say thanks to those of you who have stuck with the whole Sunday Team series. I hope these posts were a help to worship leaders and pastors alike!

To wrap up the series, I wanna' offer some very practical tips for worship leaders AND pastors. If you've read through the whole series, you might have realized that your ministry needs some work. I encourage you to try some of these steps! We'll kick off with some recommendations for worship leaders.

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HANGOUTS ARE IMPORTANT
Maybe it’s a weekly lunch or your families get together for a cookout; maybe it’s going to a movie or catching up one morning over coffee. These aren’t ministry meetings - they’re just times where you and your pastor can be yourselves and get to know each other better. Here are some ways to make hangouts happen.

Be the initiator. You create the hang. Your pastor is very busy and really doesn't need another thing to plan. Take the initiative and look for ways you two can hangout.

Be honest. Many pastors break out in hives when asked to lunch. Why? Because nine times out ten, that lunch means someone is upset and wants to talk. For your hangouts, let your pastor know there's no agenda - it's just a time to catch up.

Be realistic. If you've conflicts with your pastor in the past, the hangout may be a little harder to pull off. Confess you’ve been way too negative and dramatic in the past and you want to do a better job of supporting your leader.

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CHECK IN
Make it a priority to keep in touch with your pastor. A text or email is often the perfect way to make sure you’re up-to-date on what’s going on in the ministry. Don’t be a nuisance, but do be diligent.

Check in WITH the pastor. Try to find out a time during the week where your pastor is the most free to discuss or think through church planning. This isn't a long conversation; just a heads-up communique to make sure you're on the same page.

Check in FOR the pastor.
Sometimes, the check-in is more beneficial to your pastor than it is for you. Worship leaders with particularly obsessive or detail-oriented pastors will bless their bosses by checking-in. If this is your situation, make a point to contact your pastor a couple times each week as an update on what you're doing and planning. It will make your pastor's life a lot easier!

Check in TO BUILD UP the pastor.
Ever get one of those random texts that say “You’re awesome!” or “I believe in you!”? They feel great, don’t they? Your pastor doesn’t get many of those. We ought to be sending one of those to our leaders every single week. A simple “you can do it” will work wonders in a stressed out pastor’s life.

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BE GOOD AT YOUR JOB
Your pastor is also your boss. And as a rule, bosses doesn’t enjoy cleaning up after their employees. If you’re a relational wreck or seriously disorganized, that stuff will come back to your pastor and will hurt your relationship. You can ensure a lot more peace if your work is done with excellence.

Handle conflicts. If you’re bad at counseling, get better at it. If you’ve got two bandmates that want to kill each other, get in there. There’s nothing wrong for calling in help when you need it, but too many worship leaders pull the ripcord when things get too tough. And that usually means the conflict ends up on the pastors desk.

Have an answer. Read about worship leading. Think about it. Plan it. Theorize on it. Spend time getting wise about what you're doing because sooner or later, you’ll get pushback on something and if you don’t have a good answer for it, you’re gonna take a hit. Engaging your mind about your ministry is sure-fire way to be good at what you do.

Take on hard things. Most pastors don't like the status quo. They like growth. They like challenge. They like success. If you want to good at your job, take on (or even) create projects that require you to raise the bar for yourself.

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BE IN THEIR CORNER
Supporters come and go, and there's not a pastor alive with a 100% satisfaction rating. Leaders needs people in their corner who will back up the hard choices and run defense when needed. Your pastor needs you to be a personal friend and a passionate fighter. Don’t back down when people badmouth the leadership. Back 'em up.

Push people toward hard conversations. People complain about the pastor to you because it’s safer that way. When they’re complaining to you, they can say whatever they want and avoid meeting the pastor face-to-face. To be in your pastor’s corner, encourage people to take their concerns to the source. Make sure they know that you have faith that the pastor can help them understand the issue better.

Repeat what matters. When your pastor says something that’s important to you, say it out loud. Affirm right then for the both of you. If it's resonating with you, it'll probably resonate with the congregation too, so make a point of letting your pastor know!

Reaffirm your leader. On a regular basis (I'd recommend once-a-month) tell your pastor that you support the ministry and that you're invested in what the church is doing. It will be be a constant source of encouragement for your pastor.

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SAY YES MORE THAN YOU SAY NO
You’re not going to agree with everything your pastor does. Nonetheless, be a positive co-minister and make sure you’re FOR more than you’re AGAINST. For what it's worth, if you're saying "no" constantly at your church, you might be in the wrong place.

Learn to know the difference. There’s a big difference between being asked to do something you don’t like and something that runs contrary to scripture. If your pastor is asking you to do something that doesn’t line up with God’s Word, grab your Bible and fight for clarity. However, if your pastor asks you to do something that’s not your favorite thing, DO IT ANYWAY. 

Know how to fight fair. Should you hit a big issue that must be battled out, learn to argue without letting your emotions take over. Believe it or not, your pastor almost always wants the same growth and health that you want. You just disagree on how to get there.

Be obvious in your support. Find ways to constantly say these words to your pastor:   “You’re my pastor. I support you. I'll follow your lead.” Your pastor will never get over needing that sort of encouragement. If you can’t say it in good faith, maybe it's time to move to another spot.

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The series ends next week with a final encouragement for pastors who want to improve their relationships as well!