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?

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A Leader’s Two Best Friends

As I mentioned previously I recently began a new position as Interim Director of Worship at Covenant Life Church in Sarasota, FL.  This position is my first step back into senior level leadership since 2009, and while I am excited about what God is going to do, I also know I have challenges ahead of me.

As a result I have been spending a lot of time writing and thinking about what it takes to grow a worship ministry.  So far I have written about

In order to lead well, however, I am finding I need to have close friends.  These friends are not the financial officer of my church, the executive pastor, the senior pastor, or even the chairman of the elder board, although good relationships with these leaders are highly necessary.

I have written several times about my mistakes when I began a new position in 2010.  I plowed ahead with my agenda, pulling everyone with me.  When I finally began to listen to my volunteers I was able to make changes and avoid burning everyone out.  I would have done well to engage the help of two friends right from the start.

These two friends are Questions and Observation.

Questions

Making questions your friend means focusing on asking questions rather than making statements.  Questions do several things:

  • Invite interaction.  A good question fosters communication and collaborative effort.
  • Demonstrate humility.  Asking a question shows people you do not have it all figured out and you are willing to learn.
  • Unearth information.  Obviously, asking a question guarantees you will learn more about those around you.  Refusing to ask questions prevents you from truly understanding your surroundings.
  • Direct discussion.  Sometimes the best way to lead a discussion is to asking a carefully crafted question.
  • Create ownership.  If you engage a volunteer in conversation with a question, that volunteer will own the ensuing decision.

Observation

Observing people and systems reveals critical information you will not discover by reading the employee handbook or studying staff biographies.  Here are just a few benefits of observation:

  • Reveals hidden attitudes.  Body language comprises the majority of our communication.  Watching body language in a conversation gives a much better picture of what the other person is thinking and feeling.
  • Reveals unresolved issues.  Avoidance, for instance, can communicate unresolved tension or a lack of interdependence between separate ministries or departments. Other behaviors such as sarcasm, avoiding eye contact, or abrupt communication can also tell you that something is not right.
  • Reveals broken systems.  If I observe, for instance, that the song lyrics displayed on Sunday are not in the correct order, I discover that either I did not give the proper information to the projectionist, the projectionist was not at rehearsal to fine tune the lyrics, the projectionist messed up during the service, or I made a change from the stage and the projectionist was not able to follow.  That observation can lead to a discussion that will improve the flow of information and guarantee better projection on Sunday.
  • Reveals pain.  If you observe that a co-worker or volunteer is more subdued than usual, a good question can often lead to an encouraging discussion and even prayer.  Worship leaders need to be particularly observant of the people they are leading in worship in order to respond and lead more effectively during the service.  Many people are hurting and need to know they are not alone.
  • Shows that you are listening.  In order to observe you have to stop talking and listen.  I am amazed at what I hear and understand when I shut my mouth and listen.  People love a listener, as I am certain you do, too.
  • Reveals what is going well.  As a teacher I was often reminded to “Catch someone doing something right.”  This rule applies in leadership as well.  Catch your volunteers doing something right and congratulate them.  Smile and cheer when your choir shapes a phrase correctly.  Be a cheerleader for your volunteers, friends and family and they will follow you wherever you go.

What other “friends” have helped you in leadership? 

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?

The Joy of Generosity – A Story

Sometimes we forget that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

Just yesterday evening I spent time with a worship pastor I am mentoring and his worship team.  I was planning on enjoying myself, but I was not prepared for the experience I received.

This worship pastor and I have been talking about rehearsal effectiveness, training worship team members, music theory, piano, and so many other things, and I was looking forward to seeing how he was doing and how he worked with his team.

I had never been to one of his rehearsals before, though, and frankly, I was a bit nervous.  I have never had the opportunity to speak into someone’s ministry in this way.  Would I freeze?  Would I have anything at all to say?

My mentor, Stephen Michael Newby of Seattle Pacific University, has given me guidance and encouragement many times, and I have wanted to do the same for someone else. Now that I had the chance I felt a bit tentative.

Sometime during the evening I remember praying, “God, give me something to say.”  The human side of me selfishly wanted to avoid looking like I didn’t know what I was doing, but the spiritual side of me really wanted to make a significant investment into this worship pastor’s ministry.  I blog regularly and I meet with this leader because I want to help others with what I have learned, even as I am still learning myself.

As I said, I was not prepared for the experience I received.  His team was warm, gracious and open to suggestion.  We had fun and they had a great rehearsal.

This morning I met with the worship pastor and we talked for an hour and a half about what is going well and what he could be thinking about.  We talked about how he can figure out the next steps for worship at his church, how to keep his voice healthy, how to encourage the newer and younger musicians on his team, and a myriad of other topics.

By the time we were done I was seriously jazzed because God had given me something to share that was of value to this worship pastor.  I enjoyed giving to him, especially because he is open to suggestion and learning.

This week, ask God for someone you can encourage with what you have learned from your successes and failures.  Giving trumps hoarding every time.

Who are you going to encourage and invest in this week?

[Repost] The Best of 2011-12: The End of Me

Just over a year ago I began blogging.  This is the first of five posts that will be re-posts of the top five blog posts this past year.  Thanks for making this year great by reading what I have written and commenting.  I appreciate it!

I have been listening to Air1, a progressive alternative station related to KLOVE, and today a lyric caught my attention.  Closer to Love is a song written by Matt Kearney, and the lyrics begin this way:

She got the call today
One out of the gray
And when the smoke cleared
It took her breath away

She said she didn’t believe
It could happen to me
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees

123RF Stock Photos

The last few years, and especially the last few days I have been reminded how tenuous our lives really are.  Researching a job opportunity in Florida I find a church who is grieving the sudden loss of their beloved worship pastor to cancer a month ago.  Life goes on and they must begin a search for his replacement, but I can’t help thinking about how hard it must be to look for a replacement while you are still grieving a loss.

This past week my uncle had a stroke and now is barely responsive.  His family went to say their goodbyes but no one knows exactly how long he will last.

Indiana concert goers just looking for some fun and an escape from reality at a Sugarland/Sara Bareilles concert got more reality than they bargained for when the staging collapsed.  The death toll is now at 5 and the injured more than 40.

We have no control over life or whatever comes our way, and we will never be able to predict the future.  We can discuss trends and averages and stereotypes, but we will never really be able to see what is coming.  Only the Creator who made us is able to shape the future and redeem the past because he is outside of our reality and is ultimately in control.

Sometimes we see pain coming down the road and we prepare ourselves for it, and rightly we should.  When the pain comes though, it still comes as a shock to our system.  We are not in control.  We do not hold all of the cards.

We are all one phone call from our knees.  We will all get a phone call some day, and we will all end up on our knees when the news knocks the wind out of us.  Question is, how will you respond?  I know I am working hard to keep asking God for help when I hit those spots.  I am trying to understand another more encouraging truth:

“The end of me is the beginning of God.”  When I have finally completely given up control of my life God can finally begin to do something beautiful in me.  Difficult phone calls then become a doorway to a fuller life rather than another nail in my coffin.  The voice on the other end is my friend.

Networking 101 for Worship and Music Leaders, and a New Opportunity

One thing they didn’t teach me in college is how to network with other leaders.  If they offered the class, no one told me about it.

In fact, at my first church job I was a little afraid to meet other leaders because I felt like such a newbie, an outsider.

Yes, I had a Master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music and my father was a pastor, but I still felt like I didn’t have the level of skills of my colleagues around town.

Slowly, though, I realized that I needed to reach out and seek encouragement as well friendship from like-minded leaders.

In fact, I have a new opportunity for you to connect with other worship and music leaders, but more on that later.

The key here is “like-minded.”  I don’t have any time for arrogant self-promoters, and there are plenty of them in the church world.  I don’t operate that way, and I can’t stand those that do.

Here are a few of the ways I search for potential leaders to befriend.

  1. I research the other churches in town.  What churches are like-minded?  Which ones are pushing the edge of creativity?  Which churches have a reputation for excellent music?  Once I find the churches I research their worship and music departments and reach out to the worship and music leaders.
  2. I ask my friends.  I just moved to Sarasota, FL, last fall and my friend and boss is very connected here.  Hanging out and talking with him naturally puts me in contact with other leaders.
  3. I attend conferences.  Several of my favorites in the past have been the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit and the Willow Creek Arts Conference.

Here are some of my favorite ways to get to know other leaders. 

  1. I Google them.  In fact, I Google everybody.  If I am going to meet someone completely new, I will plug their name into Google and see what comes up.  Sometimes I find the most interesting things that can lead to great conversations.
  2. I treat them to coffee or lunch.  I enjoy sitting down one-on-one with another leader and asking them about their ministry and work.
  3. I friend them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter to see what they’re talking about.
  4. I arrange a lunch for several leaders.  Getting a few other leaders together for lunch can invite some great conversation.
  5. I attend their events or churches when I get the chance to check out what they’re doing in person.
  6. I listen to any recordings they have made.

A New Opportunity

Recently I was talking to a professional social media friend about networking and she mentioned Tweetchats.  I had never heard of them.

A Tweetchat is where a group of people converse about a topic using Twitter.  They mark every post with a particular hashtag (a hashtag is a word preceded with the “#” symbol) so that others can follow the conversation.  By logging into Tweetchat each person can enter the hashtag into the field at the top and see just those comments, or you can use a tool like Hootsuite to sort the comments.  Both are free.

My friend encouraged me to do one on worship, and so I am.

I am really excited about doing this, although I have just the slightest bit of apprehension since I have never led one before.

Join me this coming Monday, July 30, at 8 pm EST for a Tweetchat.  Just include the hashtag #worshipchat in your comments.

I will have some questions to guide our conversation, but the main goal is simply to provide a place for like-minded people to meet while discussing worship and worship music.

I hope to see you there.

Again, join us Monday, July 30, at 8 pm EST for a #worshipchat Tweetchat.  I can’t wait to meet you!

How do you find and network with other leaders?

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?