5 Awesome Ways to Waste Rehearsal Time

As worship leaders we are always thinking about how to save rehearsal time, or at least I am.

This past week I was not the worship leader; I was a band member.  And it was fun.  I discovered it can be a lot of fun wasting rehearsal time, and so I decided to share some of the ways I love to waste rehearsal time.

Ready?

  • Practice your favorite riffs.  Isn’t it a blast to pull out your favorite lick from your favorite song and just blast it through the sound system?  I love testing out the really deep movie soundtrack pads on the synth to see what rattles from the low frequencies.  Or how about a bit of The Maple Leaf Rag on the piano?  Definitely fun.
  • Brag about your new girlfriend.  Um, yeah, this is a blast.  It’s not like I’m going to leave my life at the door.  My week and my life walk right in with me and I love to share it with those around me.
  • Tweet pictures of the band.  This is a new favorite for me.  I am a latecomer to the world of Twitter, but I love the idea of sharing my life with my friends and followers.  On Sundays I love to tweet comments from the message and text thoughts to friends who are not in town because I feel like I am getting to go to church with them.
  • Show off your new favorite chord voicing.  When I find a very cool voicing for a chord I love to play it.  A lot.
  • Break into a jazz improv session.  Sometimes a particular line of music will strike me and at an opportune moment I will goof around with it.  Sometimes the drummer and bassist will jump in, too, and we will all end up laughing.

About now some of the musicians who have worked with me are probably scratching their heads and wondering, “Where in the world is Maurice?”

Too much distraction can derail any effort to have a productive and timely rehearsal, but ultimately these are the things that make rehearsal fun.  Talking about your husband or the cute thing your son did or some rough thing at work takes time, but those conversations are the building blocks of relationship.

Dare I say we should encourage these things?

I have led plenty of rehearsals that were tight and efficient and which were not personal or relational.  I have also attempted to lead rehearsals where there was too much relating and personal stuff going on.

I would rather end up on the side of relating too much than on the side of being too efficient.  Life is about people, and so is worship leading.  Music is secondary.

If you want to make your rehearsals a little more relational, try one or more of these things:

  • Begin rehearsal with a 5 minute devotional followed by prayer for each other.  Keep the devotional to a thought, and then pray for any prayer requests the team members have.  Include the technicians.
  • Cultivate a structured but loose rehearsal.  Know what you want to do and how you want to do it, but allow room for laughter and life.  At past churches little impromptu jam sessions have turned into tunes we used as instrumental pre-service music.
  • Stop in the middle of a song and ask someone what the lyrics mean to them.  Create opportunities for people to insert their lives into the songs.  As a result the musicians will play and sing more from the heart, drawing the congregation in.

There are many ways to make rehearsals more relational without giving way to anarchy.  What has worked for you?

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“We Don’t Have Enough Time for Music in the Service!”

Worship leaders, senior pastors, missions committees, and other church leaders are constantly jockeying for time in the services.  Worship leaders want more time for worship music, but the missions people want to keep the church’s missionaries front and center, and every ministry in the church wants time as well.

I have been playing on worship bands since I was 14.  Back then my dad was planting a church.  Because we were a small church we only had one service.  Also, because my dad, the pastor, loved music, worship music was always a priority.

When my former wife and I left for grad school the church service included about a 45-minute block for worship music at the front of the service, as well as a song after the message.

When we arrived at a new church in Rochester, NY, the service included a 15-minute block for worship music up front with an offering song and a song after the message.

Talk about culture shock and experiencing the polar ends of the spectrum.

The church in Rochester had about 1200 adults attending at the time and had 3 60-minute services in 2 styles.  My dad’s church had grown to 60 people and had just one service that varied in length.

At first I felt things were stifled with the small amount of time, but as time went on I grew comfortable with the change.

Now, 14 years later, a 45-minute block of uninterrupted worship music can even seem a bit long at times.

So I have to ask myself two questions:

  1. What contributed to the change in my thinking?
  2. Is there an optimal length of time for worship music in a service?  Why or why not?

I believe several changes occurred in my thinking and perspective.

  1. Before I moved to New York I believed I as a worship leader created space in the service for the Spirit to move.  Now I believe that the Spirit creates room for himself in the service; we only create room in our hearts.
  2. Before I moved I believed that certain elements in a service had more to do with worship than others.  Now I believe that no service element is in and of itself worshipful.  Elements become worshipful only when the heart of the person is already worshipping.

So is there an optimal length of time for worship music in a service?  You may have guessed by now that this is not the right question.

Instead, ask this question:

What will enable us to create room in our hearts for worship and for the Spirit to move?

Truthfully, you may not like the answer.  Matt Redman has described the now famous story of how his pastor felt their worship music was distracting from the worship service itself (my words).

In a move that would rock any church, he removed the band and sound system from the service for a period of time.  People would simply sit and share songs or Scriptures from their seats as they felt led to do so.

And this was at Soul Survivor, a very large church in England.

Eventually they began add music back in, but their hearts were different.  Matt wrote The Heart of Worship out of this experience.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
and it’s all about you
it’s all about you, Jesus
I’m sorry for the thing I’ve made it
when it’s all about you
all about you, Jesus

The next time you feel tempted to launch into a heated discussion about how the service needs more time for music, stop a moment and ask God what would best help you and those who come to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit.  You might be surprised at the answer.

How have you solved your church discussions about time for worship music in the service?

The Difference Between Worship Leaders and Spiritual Leaders

Did you think these were one and the same thing?  Never thought about it?  I have only begun to think about this recently.

Worship leaders and spiritual leaders can be the same person, but that is not a given.  In fact, in my experience worship leaders have to learn to be spiritual leaders.

For instance, I grew up playing on worship bands.  By the time I was finishing high school I was leading worship from time to time, and by the time I graduated college I was the primary worship leader at my dad’s church.  After grad school I took a job at a church and became the primary worship leader there in both the traditional and the contemporary services.

I’ve been leading worship for over 20 years now, but only in the past 5 years have I actually began to be a spiritual leader.

I have noticed some key differences between worship leaders and spiritual leaders.

  1. Worship leaders lead and prepare teams to lead events.  Spiritual leaders lead people.
  2. Worship leaders choose music to propel the theme of a service or fit a particular “slot” in the service.  Spiritual leaders choose music to speak to people’s hearts, and then think about the theme.
  3. Worship leaders hold rehearsals for events.  Spiritual leaders use rehearsals to find out where the team members are in their own walk with God.

Spiritual leaders care most about the people they are leading, not the product.

I have spent much of my life trying to be excellent in music and produce good services.  These are good things.  The problem is, I was pursuing those goals ahead of caring about the people on my teams.

If you want to be a spiritual leader and not just a worship leader or some other kind of leader, here are a few thoughts to consider.

  1. People are most important.  Period.
  2. Because people are most important, you will need to sacrifice other things in order to succeed in keeping people as a top priority.
  3. In rehearsal sometimes we have to let a detail go for the sake of encouraging the volunteer rather than running the volunteer into the ground for the sake of perfection.  Note: This does not mean horrible intonation and sister Mary’s autoharp get to go unaddressed.  This does mean that a missed note here or there is not the end of the world.
  4. Prayer, group sharing, and devotions are critical in rehearsals, not just music.  Note: This does not give you license to hold a revival meeting instead of rehearsal.  This does mean you should take 15 minutes to help your volunteers prepare their hearts and support each other with God’s help.
  5. In a service a slight change on the fly to meet a discovered need is worth a few seconds of disarray.  I have my mentor, Stephen Michael Newby, to thank for this.  He likes to shout “Reggae” and other random musical styles in the middle of a song and expects his players to switch the style.  Needless to say, he only does this when working with higher level musicians, but there always are a few moments of disarray.  The overall result is awesome, though, and Stephen makes these changes when he feels it will help bring people along in worship, not to be “cool.”
  6. If you have to choose between writing a cool new song for the service and having a coffee with a volunteer, choose the volunteer.

As you love people, people will love you and God will bless you.  Worship leading becomes much easier when you are a spiritual leader first, because suddenly people want to follow you where’ve you are leading them.

In fact, musical excellence will thrive when an excellent worship leader is also an excellent spiritual leader.

Your team members will relax and perform better because as a spiritual leader you have demonstrated that you care more about them than you do about whether they are perfectly executing a piece of music.

What changes do you need to make in order to be a better spiritual leader?

What Leaders Can Learn from NASCAR

Coaches carefully instruct athletes on how to pace themselves.

Long distance runners have to judge exactly how far they can push their bodies while still keeping a reserve for the final sprint.  Bicyclers in the Tour de France have to hold just enough in reserve to explode into the lead at the right moment.

A different sort of pacing is learning to draft.  No, not beer.  Cars.  NASCAR.  Being able to patiently cruise on someone else’s bumper until just the right moment requires skill and finesse.

Leaders can learn how to draft from NASCAR.

Athletes and NASCAR drivers are highly skilled in pacing themselves, but leaders are not.  In fact, many leaders actively fight against you when you try to pace yourself.

“Hey, Jim, thanks for taking the call on your day off.  Look, I really need that document for my meeting in 10 minutes; can you email it to me?  Oh, yeah, and . . . and . . .”  Pastors and, admit it, you and I have all done this at some point.  Some of us still do it.  A lot.  In the name of ministry.  In the name of “winning another soul to Christ.”

The last time I checked Jesus let Martha sit at his feet, and he commended her for it.  The last time I checked Jesus waited in Jerusalem until there was no doubt that Lazarus was dead and gone before leaving to visit Mary and Martha.  He was never in a hurry, even in seemingly life-and-death situations.

You only have one body, one life, and one family; treat them well.  Pace yourself.

If you are having a hard time knowing how to pace yourself, here are a few points to consider.  These four things help me to clear my mind of distractions so that I can recognize when to sprint and when to just draft.  None of these are original with me.

  1. Review your priorities.  Know what is most important: God, you, your family, your job, ministry, in that order.  Set your face towards God, then make certain you are staying healthy.  Your family deserves your attention next, now that you are refreshed and have something to give them.  Your job is critical because it has to do with providing for your family.  Finally you can think about ministry.
  2. Draw firm boundaries.  What days do you have off?  How many hours are you going to work per week?  If you regularly work over 60 hours you need to reconsider your work schedule.  Be clear about those two areas with your leaders and let them know you are not available in your off-work times.  Period.  Communicate immediately when these boundaries are crossed.  If someone consistently pushes you past your boundaries, it is time to communicate more clearly or to ask God for a new job.
  3. Practice patience.  Review my blog from last week, A Leader’s Most Important Trait, to understand the role patience needs to play in our lives.  99% of life is not an emergency, yet we push people as if every project has to be done yesterday.  Remember the cliché, “Just because it is your emergency does not make it my emergency?”  It’s true.
  4. Remember it’s just a job.  At the end of the day your family, your relationship with God and your personal health are more important than your job, even if you have a job in ministry.  As Andy Stanley said so well in the book Choosing to Cheat, it is Jesus’ job to take care of the church, not ours.  Our first ministry is to our family.

Pacing yourself in ministry, much like drafting in NASCAR, is hard work, but it is the only way to guard against burnout.  To dig deeper, listen to Michael Hyatt’s podcast, Is Work-Life Balance Really Possible?

How are you going to pace yourself this week?

A Leader’s Most Important Trait

Ambition? Energy? Vision? Critical thinking? Marketing sense?

  • Without ambition you will fail.
  • Without energy you will be uninspiring.
  • Without vision you will have no focus.
  • Without critical thinking you will make bad decisions.
  • Without marketing sense (even for pastors) you will misunderstand what the public really wants.

But none of these is most important.

I believe that a leader’s most important trait is . . .

Patience.

Yep, that’s it. Patience.

  • Without patience your ambition will burn your family, your employees, your volunteers, and every business connection have.
  • Without patience your energy will override your common sense.
  • Without patience your vision will have unrealistic deadlines.
  • Without patience your critical thinking will kill growing talent when they make mistakes.
  • Without patience your vision will blindly follow culture.

1 Corinthians 13:4 says “Love is patient, love is kind . . .” Patience is first on the list. I believe God put it there because he knew that if we are not patient we will miss him every time.

God is never in a hurry. We are. We think that if we do not implement a new strategy now we will fail. We think that if we do not get our presentation skills perfect right now someone will not decide to follow Christ, our presentation will fail, our business will die tomorrow.

These are lies.

And I (like you) have believed them way too often.

Patience helps us remember our priorities in the midst of critical decisions.

Patience helps us to hear God when life is in the balance.

Patience reminds us that people are most important; not our ego, job, action list, bank account, or church attendance numbers.

Love is patient . . .

Where do you need to exhibit patience today?

Two Kinds of Churches

In the last year or so since I have been at my present job of Music Pastor at Lakeshore Community Church in Rochester, NY, I have come to think of churches as fitting into one of two categories based on how they handle culture.

One kind of church chooses elements for their worship services by seeing them through the lens of “not making anyone stumble.” What do I mean by that? This kind of church looks at culture and, even though they want to be culturally relevant, they stop short of using anything where the source of that element has a character that is question. The concern here is making certain the church does not endorse anything “questionable.” Scripture often referenced here usually includes quotes of being “in” the world but not “of” it.

On the other side of the coin is the church that looks for nuggets of truth in culture, and when they find something, they pounce on it and exploit it regardless of the source. The Scriptures often referenced here are Paul quoting secular poets and Paul’s declaration that he becomes “all things to all people.”

Lakeshore finds itself firmly in the latter position. Here we see value in “redeeming” truths which are presented in less than desirable ways if doing so will enable us to remove a barrier between someone and God. A pastor once referred to this approach as being “willing to get your shoes dirty.”

Case in point. Almost exactly a year ago we were planning a service on purpose and priorities in life. We were thrilled to find that Katy Perry (yes, the I Kissed a Girl and I Think I Liked It Katy Perry) had recently recorded a song called Who Am I Living For. A church in the first category would not have even taken a look at the song because of the source. Since Lakeshore is in the second category we dove in only find an amazing song asking the right question in the right way, with references to Moses and other Biblical figures. We ended up using the song to great success because we were able to leverage music from a very well known cultural source that many non-Christians listen to. As can be expected we had a few people who got pretty upset about the source of the song, asking why the church was endorsing an artist whose lifestyle clearly states she is not following God. The answer? I like what Christ says: “It is not the well but the sick who need a doctor. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

People in the first category of church tend to think church is more about ministering to and taking care of themselves, while people in the latter kind of church tend to be taught that church is about focusing outward while still supporting and building up those who are already in the church. To reach people who are already turned off by church you are going to have do some things differently and risk a little pushback.

What kind of church do you lead or attend?