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?

The Key Component in Caring for Volunteers

How you care for your volunteers may be one the single greatest factors in your success or failure as a leader in a church or non-profit organization.

This past Monday I hosted the second #worshipchat Tweetchat and I asked the question, “How has a leader appreciated you, and how has that impacted how you care for volunteers?”

By the end of the evening a root issue had come to the surface.

@joegallo82 and @johnnybeck almost simultaneously said,

I feel most appreciated when a leader shows interest in my personal life.  Not just what I can offer musically

Honestly I wish I could tell you about a time when I was in a rehearsal and I felt like the leader had no interest in my personal life, but I can’t.  Maybe it happened sometime, but I don’t remember it.

What I DO remember is treating my own worship team members that way at one point in time, and I am not proud to say that.

Early in my career as a worship leader I was focused primarily on excellence.  Even though I asked people how they were doing and I cared on a certain level, deep down I was there to deliver a product and not to build them up as people.

The results were challenging.  While I drove the quality up, I was intensifying a culture of perfectionism in a church already tending towards the critical.

The kicker is that I had no idea I was doing this.  I really cared, I thought.

Until a number of years ago when God changed my heart.  Seemingly overnight I felt a change in my focus.  From then on I felt as if my focus was caring for people rather than about the music.  Music became secondary.

I wish I could say it all got very easy.  Not really.

Read my post from last week on personality types and you will see that I am someone who loves detail and excellence.

I still want to do a good job.  I still want to end rehearsal in the middle of the week with something I am not afraid to offer on Sunday.  I will still push my musicians to their best because God deserves our best.

But that is no longer my primary concern. 

People are my primary concern.

We live with people.  We make music with people.  We talk with people.  The only thing we can take with us into the afterlife is . . . people.

So when it comes down to appreciating volunteers, they want to know that they are more important than the eighth note push is the 5th measure of that new song you’re teaching them.

They want to know that when Sunday is done and over you will love them and the service simply because you led worship with them.  They don’t want to be conditionally accepted based on the level of perfection they offered.

@joegallo82 offered the crux of the issue:

you have to realize that they’re not volunteering for you but for the lord.

We are all volunteering for God.  As worship leaders we need to be humble enough to realize that “it’s not all about us.”

So what is the key to appreciating your volunteers?

  • Get your heart right.
  • Put people first.
  • Love God (not music, or whatever you are the leader of) most.

Then you will be on the right track.  In the next post we will talk about some practical steps in appreciating volunteers.

How do you keep your heart right and people first in your ministry?

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?

Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Indians

Too many cooks in the kitchen.

Chances are you have heard these sayings more than once.

Chances are you laughed and forgot about them.

Nothing could be truer, however, in leading music rehearsals.

The guitarist thinks the tempo is too slow.  A bass is certain the tenors are flat.  The first violinist insists that the phrase should be played “just so.”

You are the chief, not them.  And they know it.

Just remind them and move on.

Your blood pressure and the quality of the music will improve immensely.

How do you lead when your leadership choices are being challenged?

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 Many Singers Should I Have on Stage?

When considering how many singers to put on stage with your Worship team, think about these things:

Do I want intimacy or impact? Intimacy usually calls for fewer singers.

Harmony often dictates style. A Hillsong United sound will probably not have three part harmony, whereas southern Gospel usually requires at least three parts.

What can your sound system handle? Many parts and many voices require a higher end system to guarantee all of the parts will be heard.

How skilled are your sound technicians? Can they clearly distinguish one part from another? Do they know how parts should be balanced?

Are you willing to boost the instrumental volume to support more voices? One of my pet peeves is a sound mix that has the voices blaring so loud that the instrumental mix is lost. Harmonies don’t sound right if the instruments are too quiet, unless you are singing a cappella. In that case, who cares.

How much instrumentation are you using? I love doing acoustic sets every now and then, but an acoustic set requires a minimum of everything, including voices. Otherwise you end up with a vocal ensemble and obbligato instrumentation.

The point is that harmony should be an intelligent choice, not a given. Contrary to some Christian thought, God is not present in proportion to how many singers you have on the stage.

How many singers do you use on a given Sunday, and why?

How to Change Your Team Culture

One evening I arrived at rehearsal and I was checking in with team members to see if they all had the correct charts. I had recently started working at this church and I was fully engaged in changing the music culture by re-charting every song in the new notated format.

The learning curve was steep, but I firmly believed that because the songs were familiar learning the charts would be easier.  All the musicians needed to do was look at the chart and relate the new symbols with what they heard in their heads from the last time they led the song.  Piece of cake, right?

Change Is Not a Piece of Cake

Change Is Not a Piece of Cake

Wrong.

Here comes Ted (name changed to protect the innocent), his hands empty.  “Hi, Ted.  Did you get the new charts?”  “Hi, Maurice.  You know, I went to download them and when they printed out the font was so small I just threw them away.  I’m just going to wing it tonight.”

Needless to say, I was ticked at his cavalier attitude, but I should not have been surprised.  Change is hard, and I had just learned a lesson the hard way.  I thought that I could take what I learned from my last job, apply it at my new job, and be on my way.  The opposite could not have been more true.

Always assume you know nothing.

I was assuming incorrectly that what I had learned at my previous job applied to my new position.  I was arrogantly overlooking the obvious: the people were new, the mission of the church was new, . . . um, everything was new.  I was rushing ahead completely unaware of how much I was straining the team and my new relationship with them.

I was eventually able to change the music culture, but I had to almost completely begin again.  If you are considering making a change on your worship or ministry team, here are some points to consider.

Honor the status quo.

Ask lots of questions.  Dig through the entire server for every possible related file.  Find out the history of and reasoning behind the current system.  Make certain the team knows you value what has been.  This can be difficult when you really, really dislike the status quo.  Suck it up and be the grown-up in the relationship.

Explain what you are going to change and why.

If possible, do this in a separate meeting.  When I was at Lakeshore Community Church the leadership often made use of 15 minute quick meetings between services to give teams simple updates.  On more weighty issues, like culture change, another venue with no time constraints is better.  Answer questions.  Be kind.  Use “I” statements, and do not ever down the old system.  DO explain where the team is going and how the old system is not able to get you there.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  This is not a one-time shot.  You have to do this over, and over, and over again.

Take small steps.

Be patient.  It may feel like Chinese water torture, but you will build trust with your team if you work the long plan.  In my case I dropped back to just one new chart per week, which meant that 4 or 5 charts per week were familiar.

My boss, the Creative Arts Pastor, asked me each week if each person on the team had played the newer charts.  This way we knew exactly how much change each team member was experiencing.  I owe him, Frank De Luccio, a lot in learning to consider each person each week.

Communicate.

As you take small steps, continue to ask questions along the way.  In my previous job I had created charts with two staves: vocal over rhythm.  I had also reduced each page to 80% to keep the charts mostly on two pages.

I found at Lakeshore that I needed to create separate, individual rhythm and vocal charts.  I also began reducing the page to only 90%.

I began putting song format in the upper left hand corner of the first page so that musicians could tell at a glance what order the verses, choruses, and bridges came in the song.

Say thank you.  A lot.

Acknowledge the difficulty for the team members.  Listen when they complain and try not to rip their heads off when they buck you.  They are volunteers and life has enough change, thank you very much.

Treat your volunteers with the same respect and grace you want them to give to you.

Keep a humble, grateful attitude, combined with firm forward movement and communication, and you will get there.

What steps do you need to take as you initiate change?