If you follow me here or on other social media, you might have heard me talk about our recent commitment at Bethel South to train and encourage worship leaders. Specifically, we've begun rotating worship leaders on the platform for worship for the past couple of months.
These leaders are planning the set, (with a little help from me!) running rehearsals and leading the whole service on Sundays. It's been an extremely rewarding - and difficult - experience. Being able to sit through rehearsals and Sunday services as both a spectator and worshipper has had the sort of spiritual benefit you would expect - getting to worship Jesus as a member of the congregation for a change! But I wasn't expecting it to be this instructive as a worship leader. Watching my worship leader friends lead our worship has been teaching me a lot about worship.
THE SOUND SYSTEM DOES A WHOLE, WHOLE LOT
Around the same time we started rotating worship leaders, we also simplified our band setup by removing two instruments from the band. As I begin to stand out in the sanctuary and listen, I realized that our sound system (quite old) wasn't handling the band very well. We were running drums, bass, acoustic, rhythm, piano, keys and two electrics. I could hear that the mains weren't able to differentiate or even highlight the two electric guitars and two keyboards (piano and keyboard.) Our sound was, in essence, MUDDY. So we went to one electric and a combined piano/keys position. Even though it was a drop in volume and feel for the band, the mix immediately improved.
Amplified sound is a powerful thing. Even a single guitar, once it's pumped through all that sound gear, can fill up a room with sound. We don't need every musical space filled with noodling. Watching these other leaders on the platform has reminded me that volume and dynamic space is so valuable. Even the simplest combination of instruments through a moderately sized sound system is more than enough to help people sing together. (This also relates to my patented TODD WRIGHT TERRIBLE SOUND MIXER TECHNIQUE, which you can find here.) We have to be careful that we're not adding instruments just so it can "feel" full on the platform.
LESS IS MORE
I've long believed that the role of the worship leader is resident theologian. The songs and scriptures and prayers we choose make a huge impact in what people believe about God. BUT...that doesn't mean we have to talk all the time. Watching other worship leaders is teaching me that a two-minute talk by a worship leader feels like a five minute talk by a worship leader. My worship leaders are awesome and seeing them simply transition from one song to the other without laboring to pseudo-preach has been encouraging to me. Even for newer worship leader who may not be as vocally strong or completely at ease end up leading great worship sets when they just get up there and play the songs. (See this article for the why.) I like to talk, but I'm convinced more than ever than I should do everything I can to get out of the way once those songs start.
I'll also remind you that I lead at a church where preaching is a very high priority. Our guys are good and 9 times out of 10, they're going to say things more clearly and powerfully in the sermon than I could ever come up with. If you serve at a church where the preaching isn't as strong, you may need to do more talking/teaching than I do, but just remember that LESS IS MORE!
HUNT FOR GOOD SONGS
We are extremely blessed at Bethel. Our musicians are fantastic and our crop of worship leaders do an amazing job. But they don't all sound the same. One worship leader is a better guitar player than the rest of us. Another is an outstanding vocalist. Another one has a great ear for arranging. Standing out in the crowd and listening to all these different worship leaders is reminding me that well-written, singable songs matter more than any of that.
A weak vocal, an unsure arrangement - all of that disappears if the songs are chosen through prayer and a pastoral perspective. We only have so much time on the platform - let's not waste one song while we're up there. I've always loved songs, but I'm even more dedicated to choosing songs that are clear and expressive for our people.
If you don't step off the platform very often, give it a shot. I guarantee you'll learn something!