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Talking Not Required

One of the challenges every worship leader faces is knowing when to talk and how much to say. My personal preference is to err on the side of saying nothing, but for many, a few words throughout the service helps them engage. On the other hand, too many words make for a very distracting worship time.

Today, I’m proposing there is another way to communicate during worship without stopping the music and talking. Singing. Yep, that’s right. Aren’t we already singing? Yes, but the singing I’m suggesting is a sung version of what you would otherwise say. A spontaneous song. It’s possible to phrase your thoughts in such a way that instead of being an exhortation to the congregation only, it is also a response to God.

Below is a link to an example of what I’m describing from our worship service at The Well. Skip ahead to 35:00 on the play bar if you don’t want to listen to the sermon (which was very good). The spontaneous song starts at 35:39. Listen for the spontaneous chorus (37:07) I use to end the song and help the congregation respond to the message.

Sunday, July 21, 2013 at The Well

What did you think? How would you use this technique?

Practice Makes Permanent

Most people have heard the adage, “practice makes perfect.” However, this statement is not entirely true. Drawing from the wisdom of my former teachers, and my own personal experience, “muscles have memory” and “practice makes permanent.” Since permanence most certainly does not guarantee perfection, here are a few tips for making sure you get the most out of your practice time.

1. Focus

Before you do anything else, make sure your mind is clear and able to concentrate. Without the ability to focus, your practice will, at best, maintain your skill, but more likely, introduce or reinforce bad habits. It is better not to practice than to do so with a foggy, tired mind. Take a nap, have a snack, start relaxed.

2. Warm Up

Just as athletes warm up before any sport or fitness activity, musicians need to warm up as well. Since muscle memory is what we are building through practice, we must be intentional about getting those muscles ready to learn. Scales are a good way to warm up. Use something fun and familiar. Five minutes is usually enough and having a set routine makes it easy.

I remember teaching a song to my worship team when my voice was not warmed up. During the service when my voice was fully warmed, my muscle memory brought back all of the straining from trying to sing the song cold. Not fun.

3. Go Slow

Especially when learning a new song, take your time. Mistakes usually come from going too fast. Speeding up the tempo after you have learned the song is much easier than learning mistakes and having to reprogram those muscles.

4. Take Breaks

Don’t feel the pressure to have a long practice time. Even if you do practice long, take breaks. Give those muscles a chance to recuperate. Play five minutes, rest five minutes. This method will greatly increase the effectiveness of your practice time.

5. Repeat Often

It is so much better to practice everyday for 10-15 minutes rather than twice a week for two hours. Squeezing more practice times into your week will provide greater and faster results.

6. Have Fun

When practice is only about learning new songs or working through difficulties, it can be hard to stay motivated. Playing songs you love or simply improvising as an emotional release is critical to an enjoyable practice. Let your heart be happy during practice time. Make beautiful music.

7. End Early

It is possible to over-practice. Knowing when you’re done and quitting while you are ahead is important. There were times in college when I worked my fingers until I couldn’t play a song at all. If you notice that you are making more mistakes than when you started, you have practiced too long. Again, as in the first tip, only practice for as long as you can concentrate. You should feel encouraged and refreshed after practicing, not exhausted.

Did I miss anything? What makes your practice time effective?

An Invitation

While generally, as worship leaders, we are prepared and ready to roll when the service starts, many of our congregants may not be ready at all. I’m certain at some point in your life you have experienced “Sunday morning craziness” to a degree. Often, it seems like when we finally make time to worship, pray, read or study the Bible, all sorts of things come up. Arguments with our spouses, aggravation from our kids, accusations in our thoughts about ourselves and our actions. More likely than not, these elements are distracting and weighty even to the point of paralyzing our ability to freely worship God.

A typical response is to run from God in that moment or try to hide these things from Him.

So, here’s the challenge: learn to see all of those distracting, annoying, condemning thoughts as an invitation. An invitation to get free from all the dirt that stuck to your feet on the way in. An invitation to let Jesus wash your feet.

The reality is: you’re clean, you’re good to go, Jesus paid the debt that you owed and His blood was enough. Life happens and our feet get dirty along the way, but don’t let that keep you from enjoying God in worship. Cast all of those cares, fears, concerns and any other baggage weighing you down on Him. Do it right away. Release it. Let go. Surrender to His overwhelming love for you.

Whatever comes to the surface of your heart and mind, give it to God as part of your worship. We need not suffer any shame in His presence. No embarrassment here. Only life, peace and joy.

As worship leaders, part of our responsibility is to help those gathered in worship to understand this invitation. Corporate worship is always better when people are free.

Are you familiar with this invitation? What are some ways you have helped others to take it?

Enjoying God

God enjoys you.

This is the secret to enjoying God. This is what makes Him enjoyable. Similar to the verse saying, we love God because He first loved us.

Worship is a wonderfully raw and intimate place of enjoying God. Yet, without this foundational truth that God enjoys us, individually and corporately, we won’t experience enjoyment of Him.

I grew up a pastor’s kid. I like to say I was born in the church nursery (I wasn’t, but it’s nice metaphor). I came to know the Lord at a young age, and looking back on my life, I see Him all throughout. However, as much as I loved God and had passion for Him and ministry, I viewed Him as a disappointed piano teacher. I was always practicing, but no matter how much time I spent, I was never perfect. Even when playing my best, there were always a few mistakes.

I knew God loved me. The Bible told me so. I also knew that song well too, and there was a special verse my church used to sing:

Jesus loves me when I’m good

When I do the things I should

Jesus loves me when I’m bad

Though it makes Him very sad

He may not have been mad at me, but He was definitely sad or disappointed with me. My performance was something I had to keep on top of so that God would approve. So that He would be pleased. So He would be happy.

You can imagine my surprise and relief (perhaps a bit of shock too) when I found out that God wasn’t angry, upset, hurt, sad or disappointed with me. He actually liked me. I’ll get to the theological reasons in a second, but first, here’s my experience:

I was doing an internship at the International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City. We did the night-watch for the 24/7 prayer room. Live worship around the clock. It was the best place to be sold out for Jesus. Worship all the time! Finally, people who were like me. Spoke my language. Well, sort of.

Most of my life, I stood out from others because of my musical talents and anointed worship leading. At IHOP, I didn’t stand out at all. In some ways, I didn’t feel like I even got a chance. I was in a place where I was just one of the crowd. Not special. Anything I could do everyone else could do too, and better.

They taught fasting. So I fasted. And then I was hungry. I was losing weight and if you know me, there’s not much to lose. I was feeling depressed. From not eating. From not being special. From not fitting “in”. From being up at night instead of day. I was frustrated with God and my leaders and myself for having immature “unholy” emotional reactions.

But, inasmuch as I didn’t like being in that place, that is exactly where I saw God’s smile over my life. It wasn’t an open eye vision, but it was in my minds eye. A big grin telling me that God didn’t love or like me because I was a worship leader with great talent and anointing. He loved and liked me because I was His child. He had created me and my performance wasn’t part of that equation.

Now, I know my experience isn’t enough to solve the mystery for you. So, here is the theology: Grace. God, in His goodness, became one of us to pay a debt He didn’t owe so that we would receive what we did not deserve: His life and righteousness. Jesus made you righteous (right with God). Since God dealt with all of the sin there ever was and will be in Jesus’ one-time offering, He is no longer mad or sad or disappointed with you or me. Jesus “performance” was good enough. Now we are in Christ and God enjoys us.

“For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation.” (Ps. 149:4). This is what He has done. Meditate on it. Renew your mind to it. His salvation makes you beautiful.

When have you encountered God’s enjoyment? His kindness? His smile?

Release Your Song

If you’re a worship leader, musician or songwriter (or you really want to be one), this blog is for you.  I’m here to encourage your gifts and speak life to your destiny. In pleasure, God created you and wrote you into His story. Like a sweet melody or harmony, or even just a funky rhythm, you are apart of redemption’s song.

More than worship, the Father is looking for worshipers. Those who will know Him and be fully known. Those who will love Him with everything.

So release the worship God placed in your heart. Release the music He has crafted into your being. Release your emotions, your sound and your voice.

Release your song.