Re-Post: Six Steps for Taking Your Worship Ministry to the Next Level

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

Trying to understand how to grow your church’s worship ministry can be challenging and overwhelming.  Anyone, however, can discover how to take their worship ministry to the next level by applying six simple steps.

I distinctly remember the feeling of wondering how in the world I was going to unearth the next steps for my ministry.  I had been at this church for five years and now they were applying a new accountability structure requiring me to really understand where we needed to go in worship.

Not knowing what steps to take, I was completely overwhelmed by the untold possibilities.  What kinds of new music should we introduce?  What kinds of physical improvements did we need to make to the auditorium?  Should we keep the pews or go with theater seating?  Should we replace the aging projectors with HD or standard definition projectors?  What role should the choir have in the next five years?

Nothing had prepared me for these kinds of decisions.  Nothing in my upbringing as a pastor’s kid, in my two professional music degrees, or in my year at Bible college had hinted at resources for making these questions.

Of course, the congregation and leadership had plenty of ideas, which only made me feel more overwhelmed.  One person was certain they had just found the sound technology our church needed.  Another well meaning person had very strong suggestions about the kinds of music we should use and how loud it should be.  Others said, “Make up your mind and don’t worry about the nay-sayers.”  Elders urged caution.

Over time I began to get a sense of how to move forward without being overwhelmed.  Below are six steps anyone can take to get a grasp on where God might be leading them.

  1. Pray.  So often this is the last thing on our list, even as ministry leaders.  Solomon, near the beginning of his reign, asked God for the wisdom and understanding to rule the people of Israel, and God granted his request.  Jesus also reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”
  2. Study God’s Word.  Learn what God has to say about worship and it’s place in the church and in our lives.  God is your ultimate leader.  Know what is close to his heart.
  3. Study your senior pastor.  Regardless of whether your church is elder-led, pastor-led, or congregation-led, your senior pastor is going to set the tone and agenda for the church.  He is the one God has set in place to lead your church.  Get to know what is on his heart.
  4. Study your church vision.  Everything you do in the future will need to be in service to your church-wide mission.  Dig into it, even if you think you already understand it fully.  Take it apart with your senior pastor so that you can understand how to apply it accurately to your ministry.
  5. Study the health of your ministry. The growth your ministry needs may be more internal than external.  Some seasons are for growing in size and others are for strengthening what we have.  Endeavor to know your ministry better than ever before, whether you have been leading it for two months, two years, or 20 years.
  6. Study your personal health.  We often forget that we can only lead within our capacity and experience.  Sometimes the best growth steps for our ministry involves growing ourselves in order to improve our leadership.

Through prayer and study God will begin to reveal to you the areas of your ministry that need shoring up and the areas that are doing well.  Over the next week we will dig deeper into how you can plan the next steps for the ministry you lead.

Which of these six steps needs attention in your ministry, and how are you going to address that step this week?

Should My Church Have a Choir?

Whether or not your church should have a choir is not the right question.  So often we ask questions about details when we have not looked at the big picture.

Some better big picture questions:

  1. Am I providing opportunities for all of the musicians in my church to use their gifts?
  2. What styles of music minister the best to the people of my church?
  3. What role does music play in the service, and what kinds of bands or ensembles are needed to fill that role?
  4. If you do not yet have a choir, do you have enough musicians for the groups you already have, and do you have someone who could lead a choir well?
  5. If you have a choir, are they effectively leading in worship or are they simply a social club that meets regularly?
  6. What does my senior pastor support and believe in regards to music?
  7. What kinds of people is the church trying to reach?

These are just a few questions.  What questions would you ask?

What Is a Win for Your Ministry?

This past week I attended Catalyst Atlanta 2012.  Having attended a number of large leadership conferences, I expected an incredible show surrounding world-class speakers.  Catalyst did not disappoint.

Some highlights were music artists Gungor and Israel Houghton, poet Amena Brown Owens, a beat-boxing cellist, and a very cool integration of a Michael Jackson medley with the Dan Deacon app.

David Platt challenged us to keep the cross central to our ministry.  Christine Caine riveted us to our seats as she spoke on passing the baton to the next generation.  Craig Groeschel encouraged everyone to follow the deo humana moments in our lives, those times when God inexplicably nudges us in one direction or another.

Andy Stanley spoke at the beginning of the conference on The Making of a Leader, but it was his talk on Friday that caught my attention as I thought about taking my ministry to the next level.  In his talk on Creating High-Performance Teams Andy shared a leadership concept that I had forgotten.

Identify the Win

Anyone who has read Jim Collins’ book Good to Great or heard him speak will recognize this concept.  Andy lamented that many church volunteers, leaders, or even senior pastors cannot identify the win for their church or ministry.

People want to win.  They want to succeed at whatever they do.  When they know the “win” people work harder, enjoy their work more, and work in a more unified fashion.

What Is a “Win?”

  • Measurable
  • Observable
  • A common goal or desired result

Some examples:

  • In football a win is achieving more points than the opposing team.
  • In construction a win is a happy customer who recommends your services to other people.
  • In teaching a win is a student who can measurably demonstrate the skills or knowledge in question rather than just memorize facts.

According to Andy at Northpoint a win is “a person leaving inspired and helped, and then coming back with a friend.”

As I am beginning my new position I am now asking myself, “What is the win here?”

What about you?  Have you identified the “win” for your company or ministry?

Six Steps for Taking Your Worship Ministry to the Next Level

Trying to understand how to grow your church’s worship ministry can be challenging and overwhelming.  Anyone, however, can discover how to take their worship ministry to the next level by applying six simple steps.

I distinctly remember the feeling of wondering how in the world I was going to unearth the next steps for my ministry.  I had been at this church for five years and now they were applying a new accountability structure requiring me to really understand where we needed to go in worship.

Not knowing what steps to take, I was completely overwhelmed by the untold possibilities.  What kinds of new music should we introduce?  What kinds of physical improvements did we need to make to the auditorium?  Should we keep the pews or go with theater seating?  Should we replace the aging projectors with HD or standard definition projectors?  What role should the choir have in the next five years?

Nothing had prepared me for these kinds of decisions.  Nothing in my upbringing as a pastor’s kid, in my two professional music degrees, or in my year at Bible college had hinted at resources for making these questions.

Of course, the congregation and leadership had plenty of ideas, which only made me feel more overwhelmed.  One person was certain they had just found the sound technology our church needed.  Another well meaning person had very strong suggestions about the kinds of music we should use and how loud it should be.  Others said, “Make up your mind and don’t worry about the nay-sayers.”  Elders urged caution.

Over time I began to get a sense of how to move forward without being overwhelmed.  Below are six steps anyone can take to get a grasp on where God might be leading them.

  1. Pray.  So often this is the last thing on our list, even as ministry leaders.  Solomon, near the beginning of his reign, asked God for the wisdom and understanding to rule the people of Israel, and God granted his request.  Jesus also reminds us, “Ask, and it will be given to you.”
  2. Study God’s Word.  Learn what God has to say about worship and it’s place in the church and in our lives.  God is your ultimate leader.  Know what is close to his heart.
  3. Study your senior pastor.  Regardless of whether your church is elder-led, pastor-led, or congregation-led, your senior pastor is going to set the tone and agenda for the church.  He is the one God has set in place to lead your church.  Get to know what is on his heart.
  4. Study your church vision.  Everything you do in the future will need to be in service to your church-wide mission.  Dig into it, even if you think you already understand it fully.  Take it apart with your senior pastor so that you can understand how to apply it accurately to your ministry.
  5. Study the health of your ministry. The growth your ministry needs may be more internal than external.  Some seasons are for growing in size and others are for strengthening what we have.  Endeavor to know your ministry better than ever before, whether you have been leading it for two months, two years, or 20 years.
  6. Study your personal health.  We often forget that we can only lead within our capacity and experience.  Sometimes the best growth steps for our ministry involves growing ourselves in order to improve our leadership.

Through prayer and study God will begin to reveal to you the areas of your ministry that need shoring up and the areas that are doing well.  Over the next week we will dig deeper into how you can plan the next steps for the ministry you lead.

Which of these six steps needs attention in your ministry, and how are you going to address that step this week?

How Many Worship Leaders Should We Have?

Some churches emphasize having one primary worship leader for their church.  Other churches work hard to have many different worship leaders, rarely having the same person up front from one week to the next.

Is there a “best way” when it comes to the number of worship leaders you have up front?

I think there is, but the answer is not as obvious as you may expect.

(My 7 year old son just looked at my title and said, “About 10.”  Let’s take his comment under advisement.)

First Example

In my first church job the senior pastor and I pursued an environment with one primary worship leader who was on staff, adding other leaders every 4-6 weeks.  Up until that time we had four worship leaders who led once a month, one of them being on staff.

Needless to say, moving to one primary worship leader was a radical change.  Here were some of the reasons for our decision:

  • We wanted a strong bond between the worship leader and the senior pastor.  To do this the senior pastor needed to work with the same person every week.
  • We wanted to improve the service flow and production.  By having a staff member be the primary worship leader the senior pastor could also work one-on-one with the worship leader during the week to intentionally craft the service experience.  While you can do this with multiple volunteer leaders, having the leader on staff cuts out a lot of potential miscommunication.
  • We wanted to communicate a unified vision.  The senior pastor was new and the church had been without a senior pastor for three and a half years.  By working closely with one primary worship leader the senior pastor could be more effective in communicating the vision of the church at a critical time.

Second Example

In 2010 I began working for a different church.  This church strongly emphasized multiple worship leaders.  I eventually became the Music Pastor, but I only led worship once every 4-6 weeks.

We pursued multiple leaders there for some of these reasons:

  • We placed a high emphasis on serving.  Our goal was for every person to use the gifts God had given them.  We found out about every person with gifting in music and worship and sought them out.  We also held regular church-wide auditions.  Our standards were high, but we found some excellent leaders and were able to live out a culture of service in the way we led worship.
  • We measured successful leadership by how well we trained leaders.  Every leader was expected to replicate themselves as much as possible.  If we were not delegating we heard about it.  The view was that by not delegating we taking away someone’s opportunity to use their God given gifts.
  • We had a highly effective communication structure.  We could have multiple leaders because over the years this church had built a strong and effective way of communicating with the leaders, and the leaders knew what to expect.
  • The pastor wanted primarily guitarists to front the band and I am a keyboardist.  I accomplished this goal by staging the guitarists forward and acting as Music Director on the weeks I was not leading worship.

Conclusion

How many worship leaders should you have?  By now you have probably guessed my answer.

Every church is different.  They are all in different seasons at different times, have different leaders and expectations, and have different challenges to overcome.

Here are some questions you can ask to decide how many worship leaders your church should have:

  1. Do your worship pastor and senior pastor have a highly effective communication structure in place?  Effective communication is always important, but becomes even more paramount with multiple worship leaders.
  2. Are your worship leaders all 110% supportive of the vision of the church?  Better to have one good worship leader sold out on the vision than 5 stellar worship leaders who don’t really get it.
  3. Does your church actually have more than one excellent worship leader?  If they’re not available your decision has been made for you.  Start praying.
  4. Do you have a primary worship leader who is burning out?  Some leaders do not have the bandwidth to lead well every week.  In that case, definitely find some excellent alternate worship leaders to protect your primary leader’s health, and pray that your leader is humble enough to accept it.
  5. Is the church struggling to deal with transition?  Sometimes, not always, it is helpful to have just one worship leader during a time of transition.  Other times having multiple leaders during transition helps the congregation see that they are not being cut out of whatever change is happening.
  6. What kind of look does the church want up front?  If you have a guitarist as a worship leader but the senior pastor would prefer to have vocalists without instruments as worship leaders, then make the necessary adjustments.

How have you decided how many worship leaders to utilize?  What other questions did you ask?

“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?

What The Tonight Show Can Teach Us About Church Leadership

One of my favorite things about leading worship is interacting with the senior pastor during the service.  Too many churches are uptight.  Why do we take ourselves so seriously?  Have a little fun already.

Yes, I am the one you hear laughing out loud in the middle of a quiet church service.  Guilty.  Proud of it.  I enjoy laughing.

Today my senior pastor sent me a text after the service:

Thank you, again, for laughing at my jokes.

I have even been known to punctuate funny comments in the announcements with a chord or two on the piano, a lá The Tonight Show Band.  It adds a bit of levity and humanity to the service that otherwise would be lacking.

I am all for being reverent, but this kind of interaction between the leadership demonstrates an ease and acceptance with each other that is welcoming and unassuming to the visitor.  If you would like a church that always puts on a staid church face, please visit the church down the road.  They would love to have you (of course, they will let you know that with a very straight face).

Let’s show the same relaxed grace with others that Jesus showed.

How do you have fun and make visitors feel welcome in your services?