5 Steps to Improve Your Preparation

Do you remember the parable of the talents?  In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells the story of a man going on a journey who entrusts his property to three servants.  Two of the servants invest the talents and double their investment.  The third, however, buries his talent and returns it unimproved.  The master is furious with him, gives his talent to the one with ten, and then throws out the lazy servant.

Until God returns we are to be improving the talents God has given us, not accepting mediocrity.  In Luke 12:48 Jesus tells us that “to whom much was given, of him much will be required.”  Much has been given to us as worship leaders, and Christ expects us to use and improve it wisely.

Here are 5 steps that can help you improve your worship leadership and make the most of the talents God has given you.  When I have followed these principles, I have been able to plan more completely, worship more deeply, and lead more effectively.

Please note that I am assuming that you have an active relationship with Christ through prayer and Scripture reading; without an active relationship these steps will simply make you a better musician, not a better worship leader.

1.  Listen.  I always provide an example mp3 for me and my team members to base our song preparation upon.  Listening well means

  • clearly hearing your part on the recording
  • hearing how you are or are not matching your part on the recording.
  • adjusting your playing or singing to match the recording

The improvisational and seasoned musicians will balk at using recordings as a guide, arguing that we should not be a cover band.  True, but the band that recorded the song has spent countless hours perfecting an arrangement that is orchestrated well and flows well.  We would be wise to make use of their practice and not re-invent the wheel, particularly in an environment where we are teaching volunteers how to play as a band.  Consider the recording a free masterclass with world class musicians.

You can do this while driving, walking, or any number of things; just get the music in your blood.

2.  Read.  The chart you provide for the vocalists and instrumentalists should completely mirror your example recording to reinforce the listening we just discussed and to teach reading skills.  Reading is

  • being able to decode and follow the written music in your preparation and in rehearsal if necessary
  • being able to match the written music with what you hear in the recording to give you a fuller picture of how to prepare
  • being able to notice when something in the written music does not match with the recording so that you can address it before the rehearsal

Part of your preparation should always include sitting down and listening to the recording with the music in hand, followed by playing/singing through the music with the recording.

Did I mention that following these steps will reduce rehearsal time?  Who wouldn’t want that?

3.  Feel.  After you have learned all of the songs you need to personally practice the songs as a set; don’t wait for rehearsal to practice the songs as a set.  Feeling is

  • being able to experience a song well enough to feel and sense how it should connect to the next song, move from section to section, and fit into the bigger picture of the service.

At Lakeshore Community Church the Creative Arts Pastor, Frank De Luccio, refers to the service as a story, and the main point of the service as the moral of the story.  Worship leaders and musicians must be able to feel how a song fits into the story.  When I have made mistakes in worship planning I have often tracked the mistake back to not truly feeling how a piece fits into the big picture.

In order to feel through a set of songs, sit down and listen to them without your instrument or the music or moving; be completely still.

4.  Worship.  Worshipping is

  • knowing your music so well (usually by memory) that you can actually worship individually and as a team and not just play or sing on Sunday, in the Sunday morning run-through, or in rehearsal.

We should be at this level before the mid-week rehearsal.  Am I always there?  No, but I should be.  After all, we are here to lead worship, aren’t we?  I am playing keyboards for a multi-church service this week, and writing this post has been a good reminder of what my priorities need to be as I prepare.

Musicians: To get to this place you need to play or sing and feel through your music often in the days before rehearsal.

Leaders: If you are in charge of planning, your team members will prepare better or worse based on whether or not you have the music to them a week ahead of rehearsal or not ahead at all.  You are responsible for their success.

5.  Lead.  Actually, this step is not a step at all.  If we have listened and read well, felt through the music, and worshipped personally to the music, we will be ready to actually lead others in worship.  You have heard me say it before, but it is true: You can only lead someone somewhere after you have been there yourself.

What practical steps do you take to prepare for worship?