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?

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2 thoughts on “A Model for Worship Preparation, Part 1

  1. Preparation is definitely the key. I do think the 10:1 ratio may be a little unrealistic, though at times you may put in that much. One of the keys of preparation that isn’t dealt with in your post is the most important part – spiritual preparation. If I follow the 10:1 ration and am highly prepared musically but I haven’t spent adequate time in spiritual, personal preparation as the worship leader I have failed in my preparation. If one of my team has to let something go due to time restraints spiritual preparation should be non-negotiable.

    After 30 years of leading worship I have learned this: If it is taking several hours a week for my team to be adequately prepared then I am making worship much too complicated and the congregation will not be able to follow us. I’m not advocating shallow worship, I’m just not advocating worship that the average congregant can’t relate to musically. We only have maybe 30 minutes to get people’s attention and bring them to an encounter with God and we need to create a worship environment, musically and spiritually that maximizes every minute.

    Good article!
    David Good
    http://newsongsofpraise.blogspot.com

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for the comments. Spiritual preparation is definitely the key ingredient, and hopefully I address that a bit more in the second post; in review I see I give only musical practice examples. I truly believe the saying that “you cannot lead where you have not been yourself.”

    Difficulty for the team is a realm which can be easy to overlook in planning. No doubt, if the team can’t get prepared properly, the congregation will be distracted and poorly led. I will say, though, that I find a lot of leaders are afraid to introduce challenging material for the fear that it will be too hard, take too much practice time, etc. Within reason, I find it very important to challenge my musicians. The challenge then becomes a careful balance of new music and standards.

    Thanks again.

    M

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