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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Rehearsal Leadership for Beginners

Learning to lead a band rehearsal can be a hazardous process.

First of all, accepting the title of “leader” can feel like taking a target and taping it to your shirt.  You get to answer all of the questions and settle all of the disputes.

Once you have accepted that reality you must become comfortable with sharing your heart with people who are not always in your inner circle of friends.  This experience can feel much like undressing in front of strangers (not that I have, but just saying).

Deal with that and you still have not even begun deciding how to structure the rehearsal.

Help?

If you are feeling overwhelmed, let me tell you that I constantly deal with the first two issues.  If you are human you will need to occasionally revisit those things.

What you can do, however, is develop a rehearsal process that is clear and does not add stress to an already challenging experience.

Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Begin on time.  No matter who is there always begin on time.  The key to valuing volunteers is valuing their time.  Those who are late should not penalize those who are on time.  Later that week (NOT after rehearsal) call those who were late and ask them to step up.  They are holding everyone else back.
  2. Always begin with prayer and a brief devotional.  By brief I mean 5-10 minutes maximum followed by 5-10 minutes of sharing and prayer.  The goal of this time is two-fold: 1) to enable everyone to deal with the baggage they bring with them, and 2) to emphasize that our focus is on Christ and worship and not on ourselves or perfection.  Treat your worship team like a small group.
  3. Deal efficiently with sound checks.  One of the most frustrating parts of a rehearsal can be getting the technical issues straight.  Cut this one off at the pass and meet with the technicians ahead of time to decide how you are going to handle set up and sound checks.  Set a time limit that is reasonable but preferably short.  I prefer to have my musicians arrive 15 minutes before rehearsal begins to set up and plug in so time is not lost within rehearsal.  Do not assume anything; communicate, communicate, communicate.
  4. Methodically go through each congregational song. 
    1. If the band has had a recording to work with in preparation, or if the song is familiar, play straight through the song without stopping.
    2. As soon as you end direct them to any major meltdown areas and play through those areas until they are comfortable.
    3. If things sounded fine to you, ask if anyone has an area they want to revisit.
    4. Finally play through the song once more without stopping.
  5. Play congregational sets through.  After you have worked through each congregational song individually, play through any groupings of songs in the service in order to get the transitions figured out and to get the feel of doing the songs as a group.
  6. Work up the special or performance tune, if you have one.  Leave at least 30 minutes for this.  You may even want to play the recording through once before you start, if that would help.
  7. End on time.  The best way you can value a volunteer is to end on time.  If you find you are consistently running over in time, ask yourself several questions:
    1. Am I leading the rehearsal effectively?  Usually there is something we as leaders can do better.
    2. Is the music too hard?  Quite often I have found that I want to do too much hard music for my team and I have had to pull back.
    3. Are we trying to do too much music?  Playing 4 songs well is much better than playing 6 songs moderately well.
    4. Have I allocated enough time for rehearsal?  2 hours should be a given.  1.5 is too short, and 2.5 is really long.
    5. Can we improve how we work with the technicians?  Sometimes the key to improving rehearsals is working more closely with the sound technicians to prepare more effectively for rehearsal.

Ultimately leading rehearsals is a lifetime learning process.  Hang in there.  You can do it.

What rehearsal leadership tips do you have for beginning rehearsal leaders?

How Do I Make My Volunteers Feel Valued?

Simple.  Value what they value.

“Easier said than done,” you say.

Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Here are some ways to find out what your volunteers value:

  1. Ask them.  I am amazed at how often I or anyone else can miss the obvious.
  2. Remember what you valued when you were a volunteer.  You haven’t been a leader all your life, most likely.  What did you care about when you were just a band member?
  3. Listen to what they talk about.  Again, this is blatantly obvious, but I can miss it sometimes.
  4. Ask them about the best gift they have ever received, and why it was the best gift.

In the past I have found that volunteers value several things.

  1. Time.  Especially with families, time is of the essence, as they say.  One of the best ways you can value your volunteers is by beginning and ending on time.  I try to make it a point to begin on time regardless of whether or not everyone has arrived.  There has to be a benefit to arriving on time or early, and there needs to be a penalty of arriving late, even if the penalty is unspoken.
  2. Appreciation.  Volunteers will pour out their lives for you if you simply thank them sincerely for what they do.  Incidentally, you also need to live out your appreciation.  You can’t bawl out your musician for destroying a musical phrase, then “thank” them for sacrificing their time to be on the team, and then expect them to feel appreciated.  Your attitude and actions, as well as your words, need to be appreciative to them and their families.
  3. Pastoral leadership.  Being a pastor really has nothing to do with ordination or licensure.  Pastoral leadership has everything to do with your heart.  You can be a janitor and also pastor your volunteers; you simply need to care for them, ask them about their lives, pray with them, and follow up on their concerns to see how they are doing.  Just because you are not ordained does not mean you get to care less; you must still pastor your volunteers if you want them to grow and love serving with you.

What do your volunteers value?

To go deeper, check out this post on empathy by Seth Godin, “If I Were You . . .”

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?