Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from our friend Victor Scott, Executive Pastor at Ambassadors of Christ Ministries. You can follow Victor on Twitter at @jeremiahsvow or check out his website here. Many thanks to Victor for sharing this perspective on worship with us!
I have been in church my entire life. My father is a pastor and I, very rarely, if I can help it, miss being in church on a Sunday morning. Even when I am on vacation I make time to go to church wherever I am. When I was seventeen years old, I too felt a calling toward full-time vocational ministry. Let’s fast forward just short of two decades ahead and I have been working in churches and with churches in a variety of capacities my entire adult life. The one thing I had never experienced was being a “worship pastor” until recently. And, I have to say, I have definitely learned a few important truths about who really makes up the worship team.
I have found that this is one of the areas many of my friends who are worship leaders and pastors overlook in their roles. I can’t say why for sure but, being on the other side of the ministry spectrum (on the pastor/teacher/preacher side) I have gotten a glimpse of some of the possible reasons there is so much tension between the music members of the team and the speaking side.
Let me give you a definition of what is a worship team, and then I would like to share with you three mistakes that are made when thinking about and planning a worship service.
Who makes up the Worship Team?
First, the definition. I believe that a worship team is the individuals or the groups of people who are involved in the preparation and execution of a worship service. This definition has the benefit of being broad and narrow at the same time. It is broad because it keeps the focus on the product. What is being produced by the team is a worship service. That means that any individual or group of people who are going to be tasked with something to do during any particular service should be considered a part of the team.
Second, this definition is also narrow because it clearly designates who should be involved in the process of organizing and coordinating the worship service. I know that some people worry about having too many cooks in the kitchen as it relates to worship service prep, however, in my experience, when you have a small group of people or even a couple of people responsible for every aspect of the planning, something is going to get missed. And, the reason it will be missed is because it is a rare individual who can think of all the elements needed, for every part of the service. And it is an even rarer individual who can accomplish, by themselves, all of these tasks.
Learning how to work as a team is vital to producing a successful worship experience. But, so is trusting the people who have been tasked with a particular job in the service.
Ok, so that’s it for the definition. Now onto the mistakes.
Mistake #1: The singing is not the only “worship” that happens in a service.
As leaders in the church, we have to have a larger vision for worship than just the singing. The preaching, offering, drama, and really any other element that could be included as a part of the service are also opportunities of and for worship by the congregation.
This may go without saying. But, maybe it shouldn’t. The singing is a significant part of any worship experience, I will grant that. However, it is not the only element of the service that should be labeled or considered “worship.” This is too short-sighted a view of what is being enacted by all the people present.
How do we correct this mistake?
I would suggest answering this question for every part of the service: How does this help us worship God more intentionally? Or, said another way, Why are we doing this part and is it helping us draw the congregation’s attention to God?
When planning a service, every element in which the entire congregation is supposed to participate should be considered worship. Just because it is not singing does not make it any less an act of worship. We are supposed to be cheerful givers. Therefore, our giving should be worship-filled. We are supposed to enjoy the assembly of the saints. Therefore, our time of fellowship should be worshipful. We are supposed to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Therefore, the preaching should help to cement our convictions about the God we worship.
It is a mistake when the worship pastor, singers, musicians, and technicians see the “singing part” as worship and everything else as just a part of the service.
Mistake #2: The singing does not prepare the people for the message.
I have often heard worship leaders say that the purpose of the singing is to prepare the people for the preaching of God’s word. On its face, I don’t take issue with that. However, I do think it is a fundamentally flawed premise. And I’ll tell you why. If we make the focus of the singing getting people ready to hear the sermon, then we have emptied the singing of its power because we have aimed it at the wrong target.
Worship is about putting our focus and attention on God. If our singing is not about God, and our sermons are not about God, and our giving is not about God, then what is it about? Who is it for? We have to work harder than we can imagine to make sure that every facet of our worship services is focused on the right thing.
How do we correct this mistake?
Yes, every element of the service should work together, but the purpose of that labor should be to glorify God. To lift his name and majesty up as high as we can. Fundamentally, as a worship team, we have to be able to answer this one question: When the people leave the service, did they desire to draw closer to God? Or did they want to come back because they felt better?
If we can focus on accomplishing the first then we have done a far better job of seeing people commit to seeking God for themselves when they leave the corporate meeting. We sing to remind ourselves of what God has done, is doing, and has promised to do. We give to break our dependence on material things. We listen to the message so that we can be confronted with the truth.
At our church, we tell our members that we come to church for two reasons. The first reason is to hear a truth that will replace a lie. The truth is what sets us free. Therefore, we want to make sure that what people are hearing is the truth of God’s word and not the opinion of the pastor or speaker. We work really hard as a staff to keep the focus on what is and has said.
The second reason we come to church is to tune our ear to the voice of God. Because we believe that the Bible is God’s word to us, when we hear it preached and sung we learn to distinguish God’s voice from the cacophony of voices and noise in the world.
These two ideas are the guiding principles for how we think about and organize our services.
Mistake #3: The Pastor is not an enemy of the worship time.
Now, this one may sound harsher than I intend it. However, I have had my share of conversations with worship leaders who have been disgruntled with the pastors that they serve under. There are several reasons for this dissatisfaction, however, I will mention two of them here.
First, worship leaders I have talked too often feel like they are left in the dark because they do not know what the preacher/speaker is talking about. If we use the definition of the worship team I gave above, we will see that when the speaker sees themselves as a part of the worship team and the worship leader sees the speaker as a part of the worship team, then they will more intentionally interact with each other.
Second, and this is also related to the first, worship leaders do not always know what the pastor wants to do as the worship service moves from one stage of the service to the next. It is vitally important that each element of the service be focused on God as the objective, and good planning and coordination considers the movement and the flow that exists between these elements to minimize unnecessary distractions during the service.
If there is anyone in the church leadership who is (or should be) intimately interested in the worship service it is the pastor in charge of the flock. Just because the pastor is not doing everything does not mean that he is not responsible for how things go in the church, and especially in the worship services.
What this means is that if a worship leader is not talking to their pastor about the services then something is wrong. There should be constant communication between these leaders regarding what is going to take place. But, I will also say that pastors have to be open, willing, and available to have these conversations with those they have tasked with leadership roles in the worship services. This is not always easy, but it is important. And, it is worth the time and effort to do it.
How do we correct this mistake?
At our church, we correct this perception in a couple of ways. First, we use service planning software. (In our case, Planning Center has been indispensable.) This allows for all those involved to see and comment on what is being planned. This also provides a built-in mechanism for scheduling and communication with all the members of the worship team. If you have a part, then you are contacted and reminded of that fact.
Second, the pastor of the church provides his sermon schedule to the worship pastor. This schedule includes the title of the sermon, scripture text, and summary of the intended topic. This has two caveats. The first is that the closer to the date of the message and service, the firmer the elements of the service become. The second is that the further out from the date (so, for example, a service is six months away) then there is time to make adjustments and changes.
Now, this is how it works in our church. Some preachers don’t do this. And that is just fine… for now. However, could you give your leader one week ahead or two weeks? Advanced planning gives everyone more time to prepare and respond to any emergencies.
Over the last several years I have learned that the worship team is bigger than I thought. And, because of this we all have to work more intentionally to get the job done, to get it done right and with excellence. Hopefully, you have been given some things to think about and maybe you need to have a few conversations this week with the newest members of your worship teams.