A Model for Worship Preparation, Part 1

Early in 2011 I began preparing for a presentation to my music team on preparation.  On our team, as is the case at many churches, the musicians often came to rehearsals without knowing their parts, without the music, without having listened to the example recordings, or some combination of the above.

Rehearsals could be frustrating.  One week the team would get to rehearsal on Wednesday night knowing the music, having listened to and prepared well both the new songs and the familiar songs.  One of our drummers would listen to a song and re-chart the song to learn it.  Another week I would arrive and very few, if any, of the musicians had looked at the music.  On those weeks we spent a lot of time working through simple details: tempo, how to begin and end the song, etc.  To be honest, I was also guilty of arriving less than fully prepared from time to time.  The music leaders and I felt that we all needed to understand preparation at a higher level.

Scripture says that leaders are held to a higher standard.  “Not many of you should become leaders, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  (James 3:1, ESV)  James is not referring only to people who teach, but in general to those who hold positions of leadership in the church.  Each music team member is a leader and should set the example on how to worship.  Every person can only lead, however, where they have already been.  We can only lead in worship where we have already worshipped by ourselves in private.

As I thought about this issue, I was drawn to Christ’s preparation for ministry as a kind of template for how we should prepare to lead worship.  Lots of funny comparisons exist here, such as when preparing for ministry you should expect to be crucified publicly (altogether too true, unfortunately), but in this blog let’s spend our time focusing on the amount of time Jesus spent in preparation.  In a later blog we will look at how Jesus spent his time in preparation.

Jesus lived for about 33 years.  About 30 years passed between his birth and the beginning of his ministry, and he only ministered three years before he died and rose again.  Applying some simple math we find that Jesus prepared at a ratio of 10:1, or ten years for every year he ministered on earth.

Stop and think about this ratio.  While this guide is somewhat arbitrary and not a Scriptural principle by any means, the fact that 30 years of growth and maturity were needed for Christ to be humanly prepared for his ministry should at least cause us to consider our own levels of preparation.

If we apply this ratio to our Sunday morning platform ministry, we could say that for each minute of worship leadership we should prepare for ten minutes.  That is a significant amount of time.  If you are leading worship for 25 minutes you should prepare for 250 minutes, or just over four hours.  (Sound checks are not preparation, by the way.)  Even writing this text right now I am asking myself if I spend this ratio of time in preparation for worship leadership.  This coming Sunday I will be leading worship in some capacity for about 30 minutes, which on a 10:1 ratio, requires five hours of preparation.  Let’s just say that I am a bit behind!!

When preparing for worship leadership we immediately make judgment calls on where to spend our time rehearsing.  “I know this song, but the other song is completely new, so I will spend my time there.”  “I’ve been playing piano for a while, but I will be playing keyboard this week, so I need to spend more time brushing up on that instrument.”  We prioritize our practice time.

We tend to continue beyond prioritization, however, to whittling down the amount of time we actually practice each week.  We have busy schedules and family comes first, so we fit our worship ministry in as we can.  We end up preparing at about a 5:1 ratio.  Some weeks we may be doing familiar music and we will be tempted to prepare even less “because we already know those songs.”

Christ had been preparing for an eternity, and when he arrived on earth he still waited 30 years.  He was physically mature before 30 years of age, so why did he wait that long?  God’s timing is a mystery and we may never know completely, but we do know that he prepared the right amount of time and began his ministry at the right time, which is what we should consider.

Are you spending the right amount of time in preparation so that you are fully prepared for your role in worship leadership, or are you just winging it?

morning update

I guess you all have become my accountability group where I ‘fess up if I don’t prep the way I should.  Last week I was enjoying the invigorating times working early in the morning and getting to bed a bit earlier.  This week I have had a really hard time getting up early and being creative before tapping into technology.  I have been able to spend a lot of time writing this morning and a little earlier this week (at a gas station!!), but that is it.  This weekend my boys will be with me and so I am considering my options for being creative before Monday.

On the plus side yesterday I began a new music project – a small piece for my choir to sing as a call to worship – which was really fun.

I’m curious: what morning routines work for you, and how successful have you been this week in those routines?

good leader, bad leader

Why are there so many bad leaders in the world, aside from the fact that we are fallen human beings? Actually, why are we bad at anything we do? No, not all of us can be brilliant mathematicians or stunning performers in whatever area, but we all can do what we do well.

I’m afraid the answer is simple. We are bad leaders because we choose to be. It’s no one’s fault but your own. If you are a bad leader – I don’t mean brilliant, just good – ask yourself if you are putting in the necessary effort to be a good one.

Are You a Worship Leader?

This past September a band member asked how they could become a worship leader.  As a result I had to put into words what I think are the important signs that someone is ready to become a worship leader.  Of course, everyone up front is a worship leader in one sense, but here I am talking about the person who actually “leads” the time of worship, the emcee of the service, the contemporary cantor, if you will.

Telling someone whether they are or are not worship leader material can be difficult, and so I spent some time praying and thinking about the issue.  At first I wanted to list detailed skills, such as reading music or leading worship in a particular way, but after some interaction with my leadership team and a few drafts, I settled on five general areas: spiritual walk, leadership potential, team spirit, worship presence, and musicality.

Here is how I would define those areas:

  • In spiritual walk a worship leader will be someone who is pursuing God and his approval in their life, which will be evidenced by the way they live and worship.
  • In leadership potential a worship leader will be someone whom people naturally want to follow and someone who is always on time and prepared.  This person will also be teachable.
  • In team spirit a worship leader will be someone who adds to the energy of a team rather than detracting or remaining neutral.
  • In worship presence a worship leader will be someone who is welcoming, inviting and transparent on stage, and also who displays a heart of worship.  As mentioned above, this can be an indicator of your spiritual walk because you cannot lead someone where you have not already been yourself.
  • In musicality a worship leader will be someone who is able to sing parts and melodies with precision and expression.

How about you?  How would you decide if an aspiring worship leader was ready to take the plunge?

outliers and morning successes

Several days ago I mentioned that I was going to begin my days by seeking input from technology (Facebook, email, etc.) after I had spent some time with God and done some creative work.  Well, this is my third  day and all is going well.  I have even been getting up early (for me – 6 am) and getting more use out of my mornings, something I have not been able to consistently do for some time.  OK, yesterday I slept an hour longer that the alarm was set, but I was still up sort of early: 7 am.

I am a musician and I love the evenings.  I also hate to let a day end, which is part of the reason I have been reluctant to get up early unless I had a deadline or meeting hanging over my head.  If I am honest, though, nothing good happens with me after 10 (or rarely, at least).  More often I go into some sort of fog and my decision making and judgement becomes suspect.

A lot of my inspiration came this week in the form of a book: Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.  I will not go into too much detail here, but the premise of his book is that outliers (people who defy the norm, i.e. “geniuses,” etc.) are not so different from all of us.  In fact, at the very end of the book Gladwell states that “Outliers are not really outliers after all.”  These are people of whom at least several things (among others) are true:

  • They had an opportunity or multiple opportunities for which they can take no credit
  • They at least good talent and ability
  • They had a really strong work ethic

Gladwell points out that very little differs in people who score 120 or above in Intelligence Quotient (IQ) tests.  If someone has a 200 IQ but no work ethic, or a stand-off attitude towards authority, or no opportunity, or a combination of these and other things, that person will not necessarily excel over the person with a 120 IQ and who DOES have a work ethic, a healthy attitude towards authority, opportunity, and other “normal” factors.

J. Robert Oppenheimer

J. Robert Oppenheimer was not the best candidate for leading the Manhattan Project, but in addition to solid engineering and scientific skills he was really good in reading and managing people.  In college he poisoned his professor (the professor survived) and, instead of being expelled or sent to prison, he talked his way into just being put on probation at college and continuing his studies.  In contrast Christopher Langan, arguably the smartest person living, could not negotiate changing a section of a class in college because his transportation fell through.

Christopher Langan

Gladwell only overlooks one issue, in my mind, and that is the presence of God in our lives.  Proverbs (NIV 1984) tells us that God is in control of all things:

  • 16:1To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.
  • 16:9In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.
  • 19:21Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
Earlier this week, then, with the book in mind I came to several conclusions about myself that were very encouraging:
  • I am smart enough
  • I have opportunities in front of me right now (more to come on that in a later post)
  • My success in these opportunities will, in large part, be directly related to how hard I am willing to work on them
  • Even tragedies and difficult times can turn out to be advantages

From Proverbs I came to several encouraging conclusions about God:

  • Because I am committed to following Christ, God will guide my steps.
  • Because God can see the future, I know I have a good guide.

I’m curious.  What opportunities have come along that made all the difference in your life?  What people came along without whom you would not be who you are today?  Where is God in your decision and planning processes?

beginning each day

Seth Godin asked the question in his blog (my paraphrase), “Do you begin your day with input or creative output?”

This question caught my attention because I often begin the day, as I am certain many others do, by reading my Facebook page, email, and so forth.  Once I have had breakfast I then spend time reading or listening to Scripture and praying.  Only then do I begin creative output, or output of any kind.  I began to wonder if I have things out of order.

As a result, this morning I began differently.  When I got up I did not look at email, Facebook, or anything else.  Instead I got ready for the day and then sat down for some Scripture and prayer over some yogurt.  After checking my finances and getting everything up to date I am now writing and working on a project, all before taking input from technology.  I feel refreshed and able to meet the day.  Of course, a good night’s rest didn’t hurt.

I always try to keep Scripture and prayer early in the day because God sets the tone of my heart through Scripture and I need his wisdom and strength to succeed each day.  Email and Facebook, however, have the opposite effect.  Instead of filling me up they drain me and fracture my thoughts so that I cannot clearly define what it is I need to be working on.

Check with me in a week, but my goal is now to begin each day technology free.

How about you?  What is your daily beginning routine, and how do you “fill your cup” each morning?


I forget where I first saw this line, but I find it so true:

Ink is cheap therapy.

I’m talking about writing, not tattoos.  I have no experience with the latter, and do not care to.  Writing, on the other hand, is a dear friend.  Sometimes I find that simply sitting down and writing helps my mind unkink itself.  Seeing your thoughts on paper somehow makes them more real, more permanent, more . . . kinetic.

Fears or dreams roaming in the mind do little more than upset mental furniture.  In order to produce change in the world these thoughts have to be released on the world as we know it.  Once they are released the laws of physics kick in: every action produces an equal and opposite reaction.

Once I wrote a thought down and I was immediately repulsed and embarrassed by it.  I could not blot it out fast enough.  Many other times I found peace spreading through my soul as I wrote out my thoughts and the words God seemed to be placing on my heart.  For better or for worse we speak things into existence when we write them.

Writing becomes even deeper therapy when we write what has hurt us, grieved us, saddened us.  I find peace as I acknowledge what I am feeling.  Over the past few years I have done hospital visits from time to time in my church work and I have found, as my dad explained to me once, that people just want to be heard.  Everyone wants to be validated, to know that their feelings matter and are not lost in the sea of humanity.  You do not need to agree with them, you simply need to validate their thoughts, feelings and opinions.

When no one is around to tell us our thoughts and feelings matter, writing is our way of telling ourselves your thoughts and feelings matter.  You are not crazy.  Acknowledging and validating feelings and thoughts and experiences allows us to move on and not be trapped by them.  Feelings such as fear, and memories of injuries and wrongs are poison, and if we do not rid our system of the poisons floating around in our bodies, we will not be able to live fully as God intended.  Fear, and Satan himself, only have a hold on us when we hide in secrecy.  His biggest fear is that we will bring things out into the light and see that we can indeed move on and find healing.

Ink is cheap therapy.  What do you need to write down so that you can move on?