A Model for Worship Preparation, Part 2

In the last post we looked at the amount of time Christ spent preparing for ministry.  Now let’s look at how Christ prepared for his ministry in the 30 years before he “went public.”

Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully God.  While we will never comprehend exactly how God accomplished this seemingly contradictory union, we can know that in the human realm Jesus grew up much as every other human does.

He grew physically and emotionally from a baby to a man.  While he could have skipped the human timetable of maturity and started speaking, walking, and working earlier than most humans simply because he was God, he did not.  Jesus waited patiently as his body matured.  He played, went to school, and learned the skills of a carpenter, which at that time referred to the construction of whole homes, not just wood working.  He honed his craft.  By the time he was thirty and ready to go into ministry he probably could have taken over his father’s business.

As worship musicians and leaders we must spend time honing our craft, whether that is singing or playing an instrument.  We do not arrive at proficiency overnight; we have to work at it.  Whether we are already highly proficient or just beginning we should all be continuously developing our gifts.

Last night I was speaking with Dave, a drummer, and he was talking about how enthused he was to have discovered a new instructional DVD.  Over the past two weeks Dave has been implementing the exercises he has found on this DVD and he is already seeing results.  Dave is a good drummer, but he sees an opportunity to grow and he is seizing it.  Excellence is doing the best you can with what you have been given; if you think you can do better in some area you need to find a way to grow.  We need to bring our best to God, not our “good enough.”

As he grew Jesus learned how to set aside time to pray and speak with his father.  Jesus did not enter ministry at age thirty and suddenly know that he needed to recharge spiritually by spending time alone with God.  His practice of spending time alone with God was, most likely, commonplace for him by the time he entered his ministry.  Even though he was fully God, he was also fully human, and humans must spend time with God in order to have the power to confront and overcome life.

Do you spend time each day speaking with and listening to God through prayer and reading or listening to the Scripture?  If we want to hear God on a Sunday morning when the guitars are cranking and the drums are pounding, we need to be able to speak with and hear from God when we are alone, silent, and still.

When he was thirty, and before John baptized him, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by Satan.  These 40 days were hard, brutal times.  Hebrews says, “We have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.”  (Hebrews 4:15b, NIV 1984)  Satan tempted Jesus to turn the rocks into bread, and I would not be surprised if Jesus was tempted later in life to turn rocks into bread when he and his companions had been traveling and were very hungry.  Satan tempted Christ with power over all of the kingdoms of the earth without having to suffer the cross; all Jesus had to do was worship Satan. Later in life Jesus was tempted to turn his back God’s plan for his life and allow the crowds to crown him king.

Jesus’ answers to Satan’s temptations all came from Scripture.  We will face many temptations and challenges in ministry.  The best preparation for temptations and challenges is time spent alone with God.  Then when you are tempted or challenged God will bring his word to your mind so that you can overcome the situation.  We have no substitute for time spent reading the Scripture and speaking with God.

Luke 2:52 (NIV 1984) tells us that “Jesus grew . . . in favor with God and man.”  People began to think highly of him, which means he grew to a point where people respected and would listen to him.  Jesus did not at some point say, “I am God, so now everyone will respect and follow me.”  Sounds like Dilbert.  No, Jesus earned respect and the right to lead as every human must.

As leaders we must earn the respect of our employers, employees, peers, and volunteers.  Respect and the permission to lead are earned over time through interactions with people, not through imperial decree.  Several years ago I became the Interim Music Director at Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, at a time when they desperately needed someone to step in and help shoulder the load.  As a result one week I was a guest musician and the next week I was in charge of the entire music program.  A volunteer said later that she followed my leadership at that time not because she wanted to follow me but because my boss asked her and the others on the team to follow me.  As the year went on, however, I was slowly able to earn the respect of the music team as well as the permission to lead them.

What jumps out at you about Jesus’ way of honing his craft, learning to lean spiritually on his father, or earning the “favor of God and man?” 

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?