A Healthy Worship Team
When it comes to Biblical worship through song in the body of Christ, it's important to remember that the purpose of worship is to edify the saints, honor God, and submit to the authority of Scripture. Therefore, it is essential to not have your own agenda when creating, leading, or assisting in the music ministry. Instead, focus on the message of the songs and the Scriptures and doctrines they exude.
A worship team is truly in dangerous territory when each member has their own personal agenda and independent view of how things should go. A healthy team desires to be lead in the ways of Godly worship. And just as importantly, true leadership must come from a heart that desires to glorify God through the practical shepherding of the entire music ministry.
At the 2023 Hymns of Grace Conference in Santa Clarita, California, Seth Bigelow of Countryside Bible Church in Southlake, Texas gave a seminar on the practical shepherding of the music ministry. While intentional spiritual shepherding is necessary as well (being a position of leadership in the church of God), this session focused primarily on how to effectively equip the team with the tools they need to succeed.
1. Prepare Your Team
• Sheet Music
• Demo recordings
• Lyric Presentation
2. Plan Your Rehearsal
• Time Expectations
• Intros and Endings
• Personal Preparation
3. Prioritize Your Review
• Periodically necessary
• Value constructive criticism
• Identify training areas
4. Pursue Your Relationships
• Ministry context while serving
• Event-driven fellowship
• Personal meals and discipleship
What does a healthy team look like?
Be well equipped.
In the seminar, held at Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, Seth advised worship leaders to prepare the team well with accurate sheet music, recordings (if possible) to help them learn the particular song arrangement planned and ensure that the lyrics in the songs provided match the slides and the version being sung. The team’s part in all of this is to communicate effectively to the worship leader what keys they need / work best with and if they need specific accommodation (guitar chord charts, banjo score, large print lyrics sheet, etc).
Seth also stressed the importance of allowing enough time to be comfortably, not just adequately confident in the set for the coming week. Bob Kauflin of Sovereign Grace Music only needs 10-15 minutes to run through a minute or two of each song before he is confident. But, he has been doing this since the 1970s. On average, teams of 2-5 people need 90 minutes of rehearsal to understand the set well enough to be comfortable and allow it to flow on a Sunday morning. Darren Wiebe of Grace Bible Church of Bakersfield invites his worship team to the church on Wednesday evenings where they enjoy a time of fellowship, rehearsal, and bonding.
‘Arrive at rehearsal knowing the music well & confidently.’ Seth Bigelow
Be truly dedicated.
Seth Bigelow continued with the challenge for all members of the team to take more time than just Saturday night to prepare for the set. He challenged team members to make it a personal time of reflection and devotion. Don’t treat the songs of worship to the Lord casually. Avoid taking irreverent liberties in the time of preparation or treating rehearsal like a jam-out session with buddies. These are songs to our Savior and should not be treated with this type of disrespect. Bear in mind that doing so will create a callous atmosphere and approach to the music and your church congregation and bandmates will notice by how you play or sing these songs later. Instead, listen to the songs first before practice. Understand the words. Reflect on their truths. Pray for guidance and even read the songs without listening to the melody a few times to allow the truths to slowly sink in without being carried by the tune. If the songs were selected intentionally and with gravity, this is likely one of the ways each song was chosen, and it can be very helpful to do the same as a band member or vocalist.
Reviewing and providing analysis as well as making check-up and correction a priority is key in the success of any project, task, or responsibility in life. There is no difference in worship music ministry. Time must be taken to review mistakes, research challenging portions of a song, or implement mechanisms to better serve the team if there are consistent areas where negative feedback seems to stem from. And, if the worship leader advises that your harpsichord playing is never in tune, don’t get defensive. Instead, be teachable and ask questions on where improvement may be found.
Too many cooks spoil the broth.
A healthy worship team member is able to follow instruction. If you are assigned to play cello but, come Sunday morning, you decide to sing soprano, you are frustrating the job the worship leader has been given: to lead the group with excellence, harmony, and beauty to the glory of God and the edification of the saints. The arrangement has been picked with a specific number of vocalists and instrumentalists. Deciding otherwise and going above leadership makes for a bad rehearsal and Sunday morning. Look at your assignments, rehearse, and use your talents as assigned and as given by God, no more; no less. Be dedicated to uniformity and teamwork. Remember, if everyone sang a song the way they grew up hearing it, it would sound terrible! Sing the song true to the way it is laid out in the demonstration tracks or sheets provided.
Keep priorities & ambitions in check.
Remember that the worship team is a ministry just like any other branch of the church body. Not only are we a team dedicated to the glory of God and the edification of the saints above all things, but we are also part of the body! We are to act as part of the body and not be an elite club that hides in the ‘green room’ during service. Sit with the rest of the congregation during service. Be a part of the body and never become untouchable or a celebrity figure. Never carry yourself different because you are one of the ones ‘on stage’. It is the Lord you are charged to glorify. If you have a right understanding of the Lord, that will immediately drive all thoughts of stardom from your mind. The Lord is very serious about his worship (see Leviticus 10).
Get to know one another.
We are also to care for one another just like the rest of the church body does. Get together. Fellowship together. Celebrate birthdays. This requires more than just 2 or 3 members of the team to desire this. This requires the whole team to make efforts to break ice, take time, and form relationships with the others. Even if there is an age gap between members, there is still commonality that can always be shared among believers: Christ! Disciple one another. Allow yourself to be discipled. ‘If you only ever see one another on Sunday morning, do not expect your music to reflect unity, joy, or the church!’
Worship leaders: Shepherd them.
Worship leaders should consider taking the time to walk their team through why each song is being sung that week. This requires time and commitment but it can help the team avoid one of the largest pitfalls of singing or playing each Sunday. That is: failure to truly worship through song while leading the congregation in song.
Don't overdo it.
Another aspect to be cautious of in worship music ministry is burnout. As a worship leader, scheduling the team is a key responsibility. Be in tune with the constraints and needs of the team. Try to avoid scheduling members every single week for months without a break. It is important for members and the worship leader to be able to worship through song with their families & among the congregation at times as well. Implementing a healthy rotation is generally considered the best option. When commitments outside of church get in the way of the schedule, simply switch (or replace) as needed and be sensitive to the issues that arise in others’ lives. Don’t run the music ministry like a business with the rigid schedules and stress that comes with it. That being said, for worship team leaders & members, always evaluate your time, priorities, and prior commitments such as family, study of His Word, and personal devotions with the Lord.
Consider the time and resources required by a healthy music ministry and consistently evaluate if the Lord is continuing to make provision in your life for that required dedication to the team and all the obligations it entails. Many sessions touched on: ‘Getting your priorities right.’
Love the Lord above all.
Going deeper into one of the priorities is the study of God’s Word. One speaker at the conference said this, ‘The heart of hypocrisy is claiming to honor God but failing to treasure His Word.’ This is true for those in worship ministry, teaching ministry, and the congregation itself; anyone that claims Christ in their life! The qualifications found in 1 Timothy 3 for deacons hold true for those having any role of responsibility in the church. Remember, being on the worship team is not an excuse or pass for a lack of personal discipline in the Word or a true desire for the things of Christ including an abhorrence of the things that are evil, irreverent, and Godless. It should be incomprehensible for the redeemed heart to sing songs that exalt the name of our Savior and then get in our cars and sing songs of sensuality, irreverence, or obscenities. This demonstrates a failure to understand the gift of worship through song that the Lord grants His people. James 3 reminds us that the tongue is untamable. ‘With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a fountain pour forth from the same opening fresh and bitter water?’ (James 3:9-11 LSB)
In summary, the role of worship leader, musician, or vocalist does not take the place of spending much time in the Word or building and maintaining the relationships the Lord has placed in your life, such as family. These things must not suffer due to the time and resources needed as part of the worship team.